Christmas Forest returns to Olympia

What normally serves as a ballroom at Olympia’s Red Lion Hotel looked more like the North Pole on Saturday afternoon, with designers and decorators scrambling to piece together dozens of trees for the Christmas Forest, an annual fundraiser held by the Providence St. Peter Foundation.

The large room was filled with dazzling lights, homemade and store-bought ornaments, the smell of hot apple cider and, of course, Christmas trees.

Decorators drew inspiration from the outdoors, recent trends and classic holiday stories while decorating their trees, all of which will be sold to benefit the foundation. This is the fundraiser’s 27th year, and the foundation has raised more than $8.6 million through the Christmas Forest.

The five-day event will open to the public Wednesday.

This year, fundraisers hope to collect $600,000, foundation spokeswoman Jocelyn Wood said. About $200,000 of that money would go toward opening a palliative care clinic to help people dealing with serious illnesses.

One team of decorators — Dianna Nausley, Susan Clemen and Rosie Sawyer — created Kamp Kringle, a camping-themed tree trimmed with fuzzy owls, miniature lanterns and plaid-printed birds. The tree also features moss-covered globe ornaments made with moss from Sawyer’s yard.

“I went out and bought some moss, but then I thought the moss in my yard looked better,” Sawyer said. “So I used that instead.”

Providence St. Peter Hospital nurses Ashley McBride and Angela Thompson drew inspiration from the popular movie “Frozen.” Their tree was decorated with blue and silver trimmings to match Princess Elsa, and the tree skirt and presents were created to match Princess Anna.

“It’s like a more grown-up take on the movie,” McBride said.

Another team — Karen Reynolds, Lori Schlittler, Lorie Kuns and Erin Kuns — used a more classic winter story: Frosty the Snowman. The tree features different scenes from the story, and is topped with a black hat.

“We’ve had the hat for a few years, and that’s where we got the idea,” Schlittler said.

But although the trees are the most memorable part of the event, the cause is the most important aspect, event co-chair Mick Phillips said. Event planners picked the palliative care clinic because it will help a large cross-section of the community, he explained.

“We look around the community and we see what we need,” Phillips said. “We look for something that would do a lot of good.”

Retired nurse Sandi Nelson said she has experienced first-hand the relief that such a clinic could provide. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in July, and has undergone both chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

Nelson said her goal is to enjoy her life despite her illness, but her treatment made her feel miserable. A former co-worker, who now works in palliative care, reached out to her and gave her some suggestions to ease her pain and nausea — and that kind of care made all the difference, Nelson said.

“I feel like palliative care has given me a lot more quality of life,” Nelson said.

Opening the clinic would help make that care more accessible, Wood said.

“For me, funding this project is the most important piece of the Christmas Forest,” she said.