Take a drive around Carol Stream this holiday season and you'll see scores of neighborhood lawns dotted with 6-foot Christmas trees, each adorned with 300 white lights.
They're more than just a Christmas decoration.
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Brittany's Trees, an annual fundraiser, was started by Carol Stream residents Jim and Roberta Guthrie in memory of their neighbor's daughter, Brittany Valene.
Brittany died unexpectedly in February 2005 from Long QT Syndrome, a disturbance of the heart's electrical system that is a common cause of sudden death in children and young adults.
Participants in Brittany's Trees put up Christmas trees in yards to raise money for SADS, a nonprofit organization that supports an effort to save the lives of children diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome.
Jim Guthrie, the father of three girls, remembered them looking up to next-door neighbor Brittany "like a mother hen." He recalled Brittany as a mature girl for her age, polite, and a pleasure to be around.
A day after a father/daughter dance, 8-year-old Brittany died unexpectedly. The funeral home was jam-packed for her wake, held on her birthday.
"It was devastating, almost a feeling that you couldn't believe," Guthrie said. "What do you say at a time like that? I knew that something had to be done."
Months went by and along came Christmas season. An emotional time for anybody, let alone a family still grieving.
To, in their own little way, "make things right," the Guthries and 21 other homes on their block put trees in their front yards, each decorated with three strands of white bulbs to light the Valene's way home.
"It turned a difficult holiday into a special holiday," Guthrie said.
The effort expanded to 65 trees the next year, 142 the year after that, and kept growing exponentially.
Last year, Brittany's Trees put up more than 1,200 trees and raised $20,000 for SADS. This year's goal is 1,500 trees and $30,000.
The organization is now delivering trees to 75 towns, all the way out to State Street in Chicago and south suburban Tinley Park.
On the Friday after Thanksgiving, two trucks deliver Colorado blue spruce trees from Badger Evergreen Nursery in Allegan, Mich. The next day some 150 volunteers put the trees on trailers and, with a steel stake and cable ties, put the trees into front yards.
This year trees will start going up on Nov. 30, and Guthrie said they'll continue to do so until all are delivered. Trees cost $40, with Carol Stream residents having the opportunity to donate an additional $10 to have Brittany's Trees take down the trees the Saturday after New Year's.
"It's a very unique way of honoring Brittany's memory and celebrating the holidays. This is neighbors coming together and supporting, all here for each other," Guthrie said. "It's grown naturally, by word-of-mouth. What's even more magical is that people know this isn't just a Christmas decoration."
Those interested in ordering a tree can go to www.brittanys-trees.com, call Dave or Ruth Groh at (630) 510-0586, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.