November 21, 2007 > Lights of compassion
Lights of compassion
By Vidya Pradhan
Photos By The Washington Hospital Foundation
A shining beacon is lighted every year in Fremont at the intersection of Mission Boulevard and Interstate 680 to herald the season of giving. As motorists drive past the warm, glowing lights of one of the Trees of Angels, they are reminded of the message of hope and love that marks the festive season.
It all started about 10 years ago when Al Bernardin, owner of the McDonald's restaurant in that location, found himself visiting a relative in hospice care in Florida. He was very impressed with level of care and devotion provided by the hospice workers to the terminally ill patients, allowing them to spend their last days with dignity and surrounded by loved ones. When he saw 'Trees of Life' benefiting the local hospice in his neighborhood in Monterey County, he was inspired to start something similar in Fremont.
The McDonald's on Mission/680 has always had a holiday tree of the real kind, but the dream was to create a symbol that would make a statement for hospice care and involve the community. Pat Gorman, supervisor at the restaurant, came up with the concept of stringing sets of lights in a cone shape around a pole and boom. Al's wife Joan designed a 6-foot angel which was custom ordered along with two doves, a universal symbol of peace and love. They chose Washington Hospital Healthcare Foundation's hospice care program as a partner to benefit from the proceeds.
The holiday tree became known as Trees of Angels, both for the angel decorating the tree and the many angels in the community who sponsor the lights on the tree. Al's son Mark Bernardin now owns the restaurant and carries on the warm-hearted tradition.
The first couple of years, volunteers at the restaurant put up the lights in a time consuming and labor intensive process, even clambering over a ham radio tower to reach the boom. When strong winds at the location blew down the tree, R.K. Electric, a local business stepped in to give generously of their time and expertise and have been putting up the tree ever since. Even so, every October, employees from McDonald's begin the laborious job of repairing the lights on the tree, a process that can take anywhere from 60-80 hours.
The specially designed tree stands 45 feet tall, is festooned with 12000 lights, and features 4 stars in addition to the angel and the doves. Each light on the tree invites a minimum contribution of $10. Should you donate $50 or more, a beautiful handcrafted angel ornament will be delivered to you for free. The lights have generated between $18000 and $30000 each year to benefit local hospice care. This year, look for gift wrapped boxes of Oreos, available for purchase as part of the fundraising. Other gifts are also available at the various tree lighting ceremonies.
Over the years, Trees of Angels has expanded to neighboring cities. Today, there is also a tree in Newark and Union City. In addition to the various tree-lighting ceremonies, which have become a seasonal tradition for the community, the Bernardin family McDonald's also sponsors a breakfast with Santa and Ronald McDonald for the kids.
Details of how to donate to Trees of Angels can be found at http://www.treesofangels.org.
Be an angel and get an angel - what could be a more fitting start to the season?
Fremont Trees of Angels
Monday, Nov 26
Entertainment, refreshments, and a tree lighting to benefit Hospice
42800 Mission Blvd., Fremont
Tree Lighting Ceremony - Union City
Wednesday, Nov 28
33077 Alvarado-Niles Road, Union City
Breakfast with Santa and Ronald McDonald
Saturday, Dec 1
8 a.m. registration; 8:30 a.m. breakfast
Ronald and Santa with breakfast too
Washington West, Conrad E. Anderson Auditoriums
2500 Mowry Ave., Fremont
Tickets: $5, registration required
Thursday, Dec 13
Tree Lighting Ceremony - Newark
6800 Mowry Avenue, Newark.