By Martie Thompson

This past holiday season, St. Johns resident Reisha Rust marked an item off her bucket list — for the third time.

“It has always been a dream of mine to help decorate the White House for Christmas,” Rust said. “My sister, a freelance florist, and I are known as ‘repeat offenders’ because we have been selected to volunteer for this three times.”

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Rust said she grew up in the floral industry, as her grandmother and then her mother ran a flower shop in Texas that has now been in business for more than 65 years. She said she was put to work in the flower shop at a young age, but after college, she didn’t continue in the business.

Four years ago she and her sister, Mandy Barkley, applied in July to be volunteers for the White House Christmas decorating and they were selected in late October. They returned again most recently for the 2018 season. Rust said that she was in Washington D.C. for about 10 days, including before, during and after Thanksgiving Day. The last day the volunteers are invited to a big party to celebrate their efforts.

About 120 volunteers from all over the country work first in the warehouse, prepping the decorations, and then work in the White House to bring the visions of the First Lady and the White House design team to life. Rust said that while new decorations are added each year, the White House staff goes to great lengths to try to reuse ornaments from year to year in different rooms and combinations.

“I was the co-leader of the decorations in the Green Room this year,” Rust said. “This included the decorations on the mantle, the tree and the wreaths. I also made one of the ‘Be Best’ pencil wreaths in the Red Room.”

She was excited this year to learn from “Cranberry Jenny,” a volunteer who for 20 years has been responsible for making the fresh cranberry trees, which have been a White House tradition since 1975. These four 24” trees require the artist to attach 1,000 fresh cranberries to each in painstaking fashion, a process which takes about 10 hours per tree. Since the cranberries are fresh, Rust said the trees have to be remade two weeks later and she pointed out that these trees are not to be confused with the red topiary trees in the East Colonnade that were in the news.

Rust said her favorite part of the experience was the camaraderie of the volunteers.

“It’s like summer camp for people who love Christmas,” she said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but we all bond together. Everyone is truly excited to be there.”

So, will she apply to volunteer again? Rust, who said Christmas is her favorite season and admits to playing Christmas music in November, is unsure.

“I would love to go again, but it’s hard to be away from your family for Thanksgiving, so I’m still undecided about next year,” she said.


Photo courtesy Reisha Rust

Reisha Rust and daughter Delaney Rust.

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