Christmas Forest serves as Providence St. Peter Foundation’s largest fundraiser

ENT Associates SW, Inc. sponsored “Owl Be Home For Christmas” during last year’s Christmas Forest. It was designed by Ellen Wood.
ENT Associates SW, Inc. sponsored “Owl Be Home For Christmas” during last year’s Christmas Forest. It was designed by Ellen Wood. Pettepiece Photography

Once a year, an indoor forest springs up in Olympia. It’s the Providence St. Peter Foundation’s Christmas Forest, a hotel ballroom filled with elaborately decorated trees and wreaths.

Strolling the forest has become a holiday tradition for many families, with about 4,000 people visiting each year.

“It’s a really special event,” said JoAnn Green, who has been decorating a tree for Christmas Forest since the event began 29 years ago. “It gets everybody in the Christmas spirit.”

But the forest isn’t just about fun. It has raised $9.8 million for the foundation, which funds programs, equipment purchases and capital improvements at Providence St. Peter Hospital. The foundation focuses on meeting the needs of vulnerable people and those with low incomes.

And the trees — with carefully planned themes and elaborate color schemes — aren’t just pretty to look at.

They’re auctioned off each year at a gala dinner, where each tree fetches $800 or more. In 2012, one tree sold for $7,000, said event manager Stacey Genzlinger.

Transforming a basic artificial tree into an art piece worth thousands of dollars takes time, thought and money. Volunteer decorators — some professional designers, others creative amateurs — get a budget of $500-$700 to buy decorations, though many spend more, and the trees that raise the most often include extra items such as furniture or tickets to sporting events.

Green and Ellen Wood, who has designed a tree for every forest, say they start shopping for decorations about a year in advance, often hitting post-holiday sales to stock up on items for the next year’s tree. Green has already chosen the themes for her 2017 and 2018 trees and wreaths.

They work together on decorating their trees, though each takes charge of the theme and look for her tree. Green designs a wreath each year, too.

This year, Wood’s tree, “Have A Fine Feathered Christmas,” will feature whitewashed birdhouses, a bird feeder and red- and moss-colored balls.

Green’s tree, which will be raffled off instead of being sold at auction, is called “Cozy Christmas Cheer.”

“It will be decorated in red and gold,” she said, “and under the tree there’s going to be a Christmas throw and pillows and wine.”

Both women said they get a lot out of being involved.

“There’s lots of camaraderie,” Green said. “There’s so much work that goes on behind the scenes and so many people who contribute. “

“It’s a nice creative outlet, and at the same time, we’re doing something that benefits other people,” Wood said.

“It’s intense at times,” she said. “If you came to my house right now and walked into my family room, you’d see glitter everywhere.”

Besides the opportunity to view 25 trees and 11 wreaths, the forest offers performances by community groups, including senior choirs, high school choirs and orchestras and dance companies.

“There’s always entertainment happening,” Genzlinger said.

This year, the forest and fund-raising gala will showcase the foundation’s SoundCareKids program, which supports children grieving the loss of a family member.

Santa will be in the forest on Kids’ Day, Dec. 3, and Hands On Children’s Museum staff will be on hand with crafts.

For Ladies’ Night Out, happening Wednesday, there’ll be snacks, drinks, vendors selling jewelry and other gift items, plus entertainment by Tacoma crooner Chris Anderson.

Providence Christmas Forest

What: Providence St. Peter Foundation’s annual fundraiser features decorated trees and wreaths, plus live entertainment.

When: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday (Senior Day), 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 3 (Kids’ Day) and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 4.

Where: Hotel RL Olympia by Red Lion, 2300 Evergreen Park Drive SW, Olympia.

Tickets: $6, $1 for children 11 and younger. Senior Day tickets are $5.

Information: 360-493-7981, provforest.org.

Special events

Ladies’ Night Out: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday. $50; advance registration required.

Gala dinner and auction: 5:30-9:30 p.m. Dec. 2. $250; advance registration required.