A soldier who recently returned from a year-long tour of duty in Afghanistan and his family helped Gov. Chris Gregoire turn on the lights Friday during the annual tree-lighting ceremony that marks the end of fund-raising for the Association of Washington Business’ 2010 Holiday Kids’ Tree Project.

Despite the struggling economy, AWB members contributed nearly $21,000 to the cause this year, a figure that nearly equaled last year’s record-setting total. Shortly before the tree-lighting, the funds were distributed to fire officials from five departments in seven counties. They will use the money will to buy food and gifts for needy families.

“Our volunteer firefighters have been a major part of this program for many years, and we thank them for their continued involvement,” said AWB President Don Brunell. “They make sure the gifts make it into the homes of the families who need help – the folks they see every day.

“Once again, this is a hard time of year for too many families in our state, with so many people still out of work and struggling to recover from the recession,” Brunell added. “I’m proud of the AWB member businesses and individuals who contributed to the program and happy that we are able to help so many families and children because of their generosity.”

The AWB Holiday Kids’ Tree Project began in 1989 and has raised close to $300,000 to date. It relies on donations from AWB members — small, medium and large employers from across Washington state —as well as individual donations to give local fire districts funds to purchase food and gifts for families in need. This year, funds were distributed to 15 rural fire departments in seven counties: Grant, Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Spokane, Thurston and Walla Walla.

The state of Washington provides the tree for display at the Capitol Rotunda; this year’s 22-foot noble fir was donated by Tom and Dian Rolfs of Olympia, former state employees who gave it as a token of appreciation for their years of service in state government.

Sgt. Kevin Barretta, his wife Amanda, and their children, 6-year-old Madison and 2-year-old Abigail, took part in the lighting ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda. Sgt. Barretta is assigned to the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He returned this summer from a year-long deployment in Afghanistan.

Gov. Gregoire delivered a proclamation and assisted in the lighting of the tree, which she said represents Washingtonians spirit of generosity. “Let’s give a big ‘thank  you’ to the Association of Washington Business for their continuing generosity,” Gregoire said, “to ensure we can continue to enjoy the holiday season, that families that wouldn’t otherwise have something in their homes can celebrate with us.”

The Holiday Tree will be on display in the Capitol Rotunda until the beginning of the New Year. There is no charge for admission to view the tree, and all are welcome. Photos from the event are available via the AWB Flickr account. For more on the history of the project, view our timeline and our fact sheet.

About the Association of Washington Business
Formed in 1904, the Association of Washington Business is Washington’s oldest and largest statewide business association, and includes more than 7,100+ members representing 650,000 employees. AWB serves as both the state’s chamber of commerce and the manufacturing and technology association. While its membership includes major employers like Boeing, Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser, 90 percent of AWB members employ fewer than 100 people. More than half of AWB’s members employ fewer than 10. For more about AWB, visit www.awb.org.

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