For 27 years, the five-day Providence St. Peter Foundation Christmas Forest has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for a variety of charitable causes and medical equipment. Total to date: more than $9 million.
But for its 28th year, the foundation has a special goal. It hopes to raise money for a much-discussed community care center — likely to be built in downtown Olympia — that would serve the most vulnerable living on the streets, including those struggling with mental illness, substance abuse or a physical ailment.
The Christmas Forest is best known for the 30-some beautifully decorated trees and wreaths that are publicly displayed in the main ballroom of the Red Lion Hotel in west Olympia. Those trees are eventually auctioned off during a black-tie gala that takes place Friday night at the hotel. Once the Christmas Forest ends Sunday, the auctioned-off trees and wreaths are delivered to their winning bidders Monday, who sometimes keep them or donate them, said Jocelyn Wood, director of development for the foundation.
Last year’s Christmas Forest fundraiser raised about $635,000, she said.
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But there’s also a fundraiser within a fundraiser called “fund a need” that takes place Friday night during the gala. And it is during “fund a need” that the foundation hopes to raise a significant amount of money for the creation of the community care center.
Providence is set to be a partner in the new center, along with 10 other nonprofits. Olympia is home to several social service agencies, but they are spread throughout the city, making it a challenge for homeless people to access services, said Phil Owen, executive director of SideWalk, one of the several nonprofits that will have a role at the center.
“The homeless have it really hard as it is,” Owen said, adding that the center will bring those services under one roof.
A lot of details still need to be determined, but Providence expects to provide psychiatric services and an advanced registered nurse practitioner who could prescribe medication, Wood said.
Other nonprofits set to be involved with the center include Behavioral Health Resources, Capital Recovery Center and Interfaith Works.
“This is a solvable problem,” Owen said about homelessness.
Meanwhile, the 36 decorated trees and wreaths are set for public display, beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. It opens at 9 a.m. on Saturday for kids’ day. The cost to attend is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $1 for children under 12. The Christmas Forest is closed to the public on Friday so that organizers can prepare the room for the gala. For more information, go to provforest.org.
Among those decorating trees on Sunday was Hayley Cole, who has been decorating Christmas Forest trees for the past 19 years. This year’s creation is called Alpine Express, complete with antique skis, a bench made of skis and a toy gondola that will run between tree and bench, she said. All of that will be auctioned off, along with tickets to White Pass and an overnight stay at the same location, Cole said.
Past trees decorated by Cole and others have included a Seahawks-themed tree and a skateboard-themed tree with skateboards, vertical ramp and strobe lights, she said.