Festival of Trees brings good cheer and help for sick children

EVERETT — Tiffanie Daer stared at an empty branch on a Christmas tree overflowing with lights, stars and miniature manger scenes.

“We need something right there,” she said.

She hung an angel on the branch, then continued looking for spots for dozens more angels, gold bulbs and garlands.

Daer, a counselor, has spent months designing the tree with her colleagues at Providence Behavioral Health Services in Everett. Like many offices and families, donating an elaborately decorated tree to be auctioned off as part of the Festival of Trees has become a tradition for the group. In the past, their themed trees have raised up to $10,000 each for the Providence General Foundation, which helps kids who need medical care.

“Kids and Christmas go together,” said Dr. Bill Dickinson, who spends thousands of his own dollars decorating the Health Services tree each year.

Scores of Providence employees and volunteers spent Monday decorating artificial Christmas trees in the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center at the Everett Events Center in preparation for the 22nd annual Festival of Trees, four days of events sponsored by the Providence General Foundation.

A free, daylong event for children and families, including musical entertainment and the chance for kids to decorate gingerbread cookies and meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, is scheduled from noon until 8 p.m. at the Everett Events Center Wednesday.

The open house is an opportunity for families to celebrate the holidays together at a free event, said Christina Greene, the foundation’s special events manager.

It will be held in the conference center, which will be decorated with 23 Christmas trees and six wreaths.

“We’d love to have people know about the community open house,” Greene said. “It’s a fun time, and open to everyone.”

Events begin at noon with a performance by the Evergreen Middle School Choir. Children’s arts and craft activities, including frosting gingerbread cookies, will be offered from 3 to 6 p.m. Volunteers from the YMCA of Snohomish County, the Boys &Girls Club and Campfire will be on hand to assist children with these activities.

Santa and Mrs. Claus will be on hand from noon until 8 p.m.

The goal for this year’s event is to raise $600,000 for the Providence General Foundation.

If the goal is met, about $100,000 of this money is scheduled to go to expand services at Camp Providence. The five-week camp, held at Everett’s Forest Park, serves about 350 children with physical problems or developmental delays.

The rest of the money is slated to help pay for the costs of kids being treated at Providence Children’s Center. The center, part of Providence Everett Medical Center, treats children from birth to age 14 with special medical needs. Services include physical therapy and speech therapy.

An estimated 1,200 children are expected to receive medical services at the children’s center this year.

While the event aims to help kids, many of the volunteers who spent Monday decorating trees said it’s a highlight of their holiday season as well.

Tiffany St. Martin, a chemical dependency counselor who helps with the Providence Behavioral Health Services tree, said she’s been looking forward to decorating the tree since the summer.

As soon as last year’s tree was up, Dickinson and his crew began searching Web sites and post-holiday sales for ornaments for the Nativity tree. They already have an idea for next year’s tree, but are keeping it under wraps.

“Usually we talk about such serious stuff and this is nice,” St. Martin said, watching her colleagues hang strings of beaded garlands on the tree.

This week’s foundation fundraising events include an opening night celebration, silent auction and buffet tonight from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $50. And a live auction fundraising event begins at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are $175.

The final event, being held at 10 a.m. Saturday, is Teddy Bear Breakfast, a fundraising event for families. The event is sold out.

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