When Carolyn Snyder began volunteering at the Torrance Memorial Medical Center Holiday Festival back in 1984, the event—now 31 years old—was just in its first year. Snyder started as a
volunteer after joining
Las Amigas, the group that launched this popular event.
The organization’s goal for the festival was straightforward right from the start: to raise funds for the hospital. Even in its first year, an impressive $10,000 was gathered for the hospital’s foundation.
Since then, countless volunteers like Snyder have grown the Holiday Festival into a major annual community event hosting hundreds of guests; it has become Torrance Memorial Medical Center’s largest yearly fundraising event, in fact. In 2013 the festival generated nearly $750,000 in donations to assist in funding medical care, facilities upgrades and scholarships for students entering the health care professions.
During the festival’s early days, Snyder remembers its rather nomadic existence, moving location from year to year and sometimes even being held in small tents on the hospital campus. For a few years the festival took place in a garage at a hotel in Torrance before transferring to Wilson Park. In 1984 Mother Nature threatened, and the Torrance Fire Department was called in to help stabilize tents after a severe rainstorm.
Finally the event came back to the hospital campus, where it has remained. “This has worked the best, as most people in the community know where Torrance Memorial is located,” says Snyder.
The Holiday Festival is, though, just one organization to which this retired real estate agency owner has donated her efforts. Snyder has a long history of giving time to Torrance community groups—from coaching soccer to organizing banquets for South High sports to volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. She has also been a Little League president and was an active member of the PTA when her children were young.
As the mother of four grown children, grandmother of eight and great-grandmother of one, Snyder has instilled the value of giving back in her family too. “I was raised volunteering; my parents were active in many community groups,” says Snyder. “I live by the principle based on a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt: ‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are,’ and I truly believe that. I donate my time to the community and monetarily when I can.”
In fact everyone in Snyder’s extended family plays some role in the Holiday Festival, which is a whole year in the planning. “My family has always supported me at this event—from decorating trees to sweeping floors to emptying the trash,” she says. “My grandchildren have grown up with the festival.” Her brother, Ray O’Dell, sees that the lights on every single Christmas tree are in working order and ensures that the trees look perfect before being displayed.
It’s probably no surprise to hear that a woman who has volunteered at the Holiday Festival for three decades is a big fan of the season. “My family and I love getting together, eating traditional holiday foods and opening presents. And I enjoy tree-decorating for the festival and at home so much that for a few years I had a corporate tree-decorating business.”
But it’s the volunteering that keeps Snyder coming back every year. “It brings me joy knowing that I’ve helped raise funds and friends for Torrance Memorial Medical Center,” says Snyder, who is co-chair of the 2014 festival. “Torrance Memorial is like one big happy family. For anyone who gets involved, it becomes a labor of love.”
One of the perennial highlights of the Holiday Festival is the dozens of exquisitely decorated Christmas trees. This year the trees are Snyder’s domain (co-chair Bev George oversees the event’s boutique), and she clearly revels in it.
Two special additions are part of this year’s lineup, she says, making a total of 36 beautifully adorned trees. The first new tree is called The Art of Healing and features ornaments that replicate the 26 pieces of artwork slated for patient rooms in the new Lundquist Tower. Cheryl Thiele, the hospital’s art consultant, donated the art for the tree.
The second tree is named In the Beginning. Explains Snyder, “It features ornaments themed from the Torah, which shares stories with the first five books of the Bible. It’s sponsored by Dr. Norman and Mrs. Robin Panitch, and Mrs. Panitch is creating and working on the tree. We love bringing new ideas to the festival each year, and this is one of them.”
Over so many years as a volunteer, Snyder has held practically every possible role with the Holiday Festival, from tree designer and decorator to various chairmanships. But even as the event has grown larger and more complex over the years, one thing has stayed the same: the devotion of all who work on this much-loved community event.
Snyder feels deep gratitude to the many volunteers who give their efforts to this worthy annual endeavor, particularly at one of the busiest times of the year. By the time this year’s event begins, some 10,000 volunteer hours will have been spent in preparation.
“This festival is made possible due to the hard work of hundreds of volunteers,” says Snyder. “Dedicated and passionate, they design and decorate trees, make wreaths, sell tickets and prepare the gift boutique. It’s an event that’s rich in love and commitment.”