Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, December 9, 1996

The elves behind
the Festival of Trees

THIS past weekend, while hundreds of consumers thronged to malls and craft fairs all over Oahu, a long-awaited event and different kind of shopping experience was held - for its 42nd year - in the basement of downtown Honolulu's Amfac Plaza.

The gala Festival of Trees, sponsored by the Queen's Medical Center Auxiliary, unabashedly bills itself as "Honolulu's Premier Christmas Crafts Fair." But the prideful boast is not characteristic of this usually low-key effort.

Shhhhh, don't tell - but Santa's workshop really does exist, somewhere in the cozy confines of Queen's hospital.

It is staffed nearly year-round by a feisty bunch of mostly female volunteer elves who call themselves the "Over-the-Hill Gang" and the "Glue Sniffers." Aged 55 to 84, they gather twice a week to glue, sew and handcraft all kinds of Christmas creations to sell at the annual festival.

They do it for the camaraderie and fun. But mostly, they do it to help the community.

The Festival of Trees is no typical, tented craft fair in the park. It is a classy celebration of Christmas - with high-caliber decorations, gifts and knickknacks - with all of the money raised going toward the purchase of some kind of badly needed medical equipment or program in Hawaii.

Proceeds from this year's event (1995's festival brought in $44,000) will help pay for over $1 million in high-tech gadgetry that non-surgically diagnoses and treats strokes and aneurisms, explains the co-chairwoman and chief elf, Barbara Sharp of Kakaako.

In other words, this sale saves lives.

This past Friday to Sunday, this season's yuletide selections brightened up the Amfac Exhibition Hall: delightful dolls, stuffed animals, handbags, pillows, festive wreaths, floral arrangements and delicate ornaments.

But the real "stars" of the show were the seven-foot, fully decorated Christmas trees, bought by various corporate donors for more than $700 apiece. One adorned with Hawaiian dolls in red holoku and white crocheted hats, for example, will be on display at Marsh & McLennan. Another with jolly red and green snowpeople, candy canes and stockings will find its way this week to the law offices of Watanabe, Ing & Kawashima.

Maybe those once-stark branches were decorated by volunteer Frances Lucas of Waimanalo, who loves to turn each seven-footer into a work of art. Maybe they were sold by Windward resident Jeanne Easterling, the master saleswoman who spends hours on the phone to find just the right sponsor for a tree.

Frances, Jeanne and industrious Lydia Iwasaki of Makiki were named "Workroom Elves of the Year" by this year's festival organizers, for their longtime efforts in making the annual extravaganza one of the best-kept secrets of shopping connoisseurs.

LAST night, while volunteers were busy packing away merchandise, they thought of the next few weeks, which will be filled with taking inventory, refurbishing items and planning for the 1997 showcase. In February, some will fly up to San Francisco to concoct 20 new tree themes, and they'll cruise the Merchandise Mart for materials and doo-dads.

Then the Queen's volunteers will gather around six tables twice a week for several hours, and will "work like demons" until next December, says Barbara.

Work like demons? With all due respect, Mrs. Sharp, a more appropriate description is that you will "work like Christmas angels."

An elf's work is never done.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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