If you visit Providence St. Peter Foundation’s 26th annual Christmas Forest, opening Wednesday, you’ll see 29 sparkling trees, elaborately decorated with Santa Clauses, sock monkeys and Seahawks memorabilia.
You’ll see decorated wreaths. You’ll see local entertainment.
What you won’t see are the countless hours that went into each tree and the many people the forest will help.
At its roots, the forest is a fundraiser, the foundation’s biggest one each year.
The money raised — about a half-million dollars each year — supports life-saving equipment, programs and medical care for those who can’t afford it.
Designers put a lot of their own time and money into the trees, which are auctioned at prices that typically range from $2,500 to $5,000. They come up with a theme and receive a budget of $490 per tree; the rest is up to them, said Tery Bodette, designer co-chairwoman for the event.
They begin thinking about themes for the next year’s tree as soon as the holidays are over, Bodette said. Among the themes they came up with this year: “There’s No Place Like Gnome for the Holidays” and a beach theme is featured in “Sandy Feet and Salty Kisses.”
This year, part of the funds will go to opening a Cancer Survivorship Clinic to support people from the time they are diagnosed with cancer through treatment and beyond.
“There’s a lot more to it than just going to see your doctor and being treated for cancer and going back later and having the blood tests and them telling you you’re fine,” Aena Martini of Lacey said.
Martini completed treatment for breast cancer more than two years ago, but she’s still feeling the physical and emotional effects of what happened.
“You don’t know that you’re fine,” she said. “You wonder all the time. You have a little cloud that sort of hangs over your head. You don’t know.”
After her treatment was complete, Martini felt lost. “When it’s all over, you’re thinking, ‘What happened?’” she said. “I didn’t even know what was really going on. You’re in disbelief: ‘Is this really happening to me?’”
She also felt, she said, like the classic example of Murphy’s Law. She kept having complications and side effects, which continue.
“Some people will die because of cancer, and some people will make it through,” foundation spokesperson Jocelyn Wood said. “But cancer impacts them for the rest of their lives, no matter if they are being treated for the rest of their lives or if they are able to go off treatment.”
That’s where survivorship support comes in.
Martini participated in a class through Providence St. Peter’s current survivorship support program, led by psycho-oncology consultant Cobie Whitten.
“The class was probably my lifesaver,” she said. “There was a point at the very beginning of that class when I told Cobie that I had considered taking my dingy and just going out in the sound and saying, ‘Enough.’”
The people who attended class with Martini meet for lunch once a month.
“I am so thankful to Cobie and that class,” she said. “Those classes are the best thing ever.”
A big chunk of the funds raised by the forest comes from the sale of the trees, which are auctioned at the gala. But everyone who takes a walk through the forest is contributing in some way.
“You can pay $6 to see the trees, and that money is part of the money that we raise,” forest events manager Kelle Schalin said. “You can buy an event ticket. You can buy a gift at the gift shop. You can buy a raffle ticket. Or you can come to the gala and buy one of the trees or wreaths.
“All of that works together.”
And anyone could end up with one of the laboriously decorated trees: One tree each year is raffled off.