Christmas trees for a cause

Seventh annual Festival of Trees benefits Washougal schools

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An air of holiday cheer and the unmistakable smell of pine, spruce and other evergreens filled the air at Hathaway Elementary School this past weekend.

Trees, with decorations ranging from lavish to simple elegance, filled the gym, along with the sounds of excited chatter and holiday carols.

The seventh annual Festival of Trees proved popular, with more than 300 families in attendance and $18,000 raised.

Community and school groups decorated Christmas trees, which were each purchased by the silent auction’s highest bidder. Unique gift baskets were also auctioned and raffled as a part of the two-day event on Friday and Saturday.

The festival is presented by the Washougal Lions Foundation, and all proceeds benefit Washoual schools.

“I love watching the community come together,” said Chuck Carpenter, Festival of Trees committee chairman. “This year, we have 20 school and community groups decorating trees.”

It’s the seventh year of the event, which has come a long way from humble beginnings in in a cold, vacant space inside a downtown Washougal building.

“This all came about because of Ivan Gering (former owner of Papa’s Ice Cream), who came to me and thought it would be a good way for the Lions to help out the schools,” Carpenter recalled.

Gering had to close his ice cream parlor due to health issues, but organizers continue to honor him with Papa’s Prize, which is a travelling trophy with the name of the most popular tree, voted on by festival attendees.

Another feature of the event is the Saturday morning breakfast and photos with Santa.

“We started the Santa breakfast five years ago,” Carpenter said. “It’s very popular and a really nice addition to this event.”

On Thursday, Kori Kelly, the Washougal School District superintendent’s assistant, decorated an “under construction,” themed tree with the help of other district office employees.

“Joe Steinbrenner (facilities director) came up with the idea because of the construction going on in the district,” she said. “We just brainstormed and thought of all the construction related ornaments we could put on a tree.”

The Washougal School District has several building projects underway due to a February 2015 voter approved bond. These include a new Excelsior High School, transportation facility, Jemtegaard Middle School and elementary school, among other improvements.

The tree was laden with gift cards and underneath it, construction themed toys and Legos, a miter saw, tool bag, drill and other items.

“We received a ton of great donations and everyone was very generous,” said Cassi Marshall, administrative assistant. “As far as decorations went, we just brainstormed and thought of all the construction item ornaments that were possible.”

Among them were snowflakes made from nuts and bolts, miniature tools, and framed photo ornaments of the different WSD buildings under construction.

Another popular tree was Excelsior High School’s “creative cat lady,” adorned with 200 hand sewn, cat ornaments. Principal Carol Boyden sent out eight different patterns to quilters all over the country, who sewed pieces of fabric together into unique creations. The tree was also decorated with a ball of yarn.

“I just thought this would be fun,” Boyden said. “I received my last shipment of cats right before we were going to decorate.”

Deanna DeGrande, school registrar, enjoyed seeing the creativity of the ornaments.

“All of the different ideas were great,” she said. “It looks really cool.”

Washougal Schools Foundation members decided to decorate a tree with themes from the blockbuster hit, “Civil War.” Half of the tree was dedicated to Captain America, with the other half devoted to Ironman.

“One of our members (Jennifer McDaniel) thought that after the success of last year’s ‘Star Wars,’ themed tree, we could do this,” said WSF President Kasey Morales. “I love decorating for the festival because it’s like having Christmas Eve twice, and a great way to get into the holiday spirit. This is such a great event and such a fantastic cause.”

After the event, Carpenter noted it was a success.

“There are some very tired, hard-working people who feel very good about it,” he said. “I really enjoyed the wonderful creativity in the trees and baskets.”