Each year during the Seaside Festival of Trees, families are invited to view the lavishly decorated trees and enjoy a variety of holiday-themed activities, such as decorating cookies and making ornaments, without having to purchase a ticket to the gala that follows in the evening.

“For us, it’s a gift to the community,” Providence Seaside Hospital Foundation Executive Director Kimberly Ward, said.

During the event Saturday, Dec. 7, about approximately 1,200 people filtered through the Seaside Civic and Convention Center to vote on their favorite of the 17 festive trees, visit with Santa Claus, and take a stroll down Candy Cane Lane.

The doors upstairs were decorated with ribbons and bows, and each room featured a special activity sponsored by a community partner. Inside the Star of Wonder room, sponsored by Inland Electric, families created a selection of ornaments to take home for the holidays. Bank of the Pacific sponsored Cookies with Santa’s Elves, where children slathered bright frosting on sugar cookies and topped them with rainbow-colored sprinkles.

Susan Romersa, who helped attendees put together necklaces for the Jingle All the Way activity, had volunteered the previous year, as well. Her favorite part, she said, is “the kids, they’re happy,” as they participate in the various activities, from story time with Mrs. Claus to face-painting.

Bethany Stamschror, who attended the open house with her daughter Greta and son Otto, said the event is a traditional part of their holiday season. They especially enjoy the cookie-decorating and story time, as well as finding familiar faces in the crowd.

“I love just seeing everyone we know in the community in the same place together,” Stamschror said.

The community open house has evolved significantly since the beginning of the Festival of Trees more than two decades ago.

According to Ward, the foundation always invited the community to come see the trees, because they wanted the festival to be “a magical time for kids and their families,” in addition to the people attending the gala. They also had a couple of activities in the lobby and a Santa Claus on hand.

Since Ward joined the foundation five years ago, they’ve expanded the community open house to include Candy Cane Lane, moving activities upstairs to facilitate future growth.

“It’s kind of blossomed from there,” she said. “Each year, we’re hoping to add a different component and make it a really cool experience for families.”

To accommodate the hundreds of guests who attend each year, the foundation requires not only community partners but also close to 120 volunteers. The bulk of the volunteers are individuals who regularly help with tasks and activities for the hospital. Others show up particularly for Festival of Trees or volunteer through the organization sponsoring a specific activity.

Most of the volunteers “keep coming back,” said Mark Squire, the volunteer coordinator, adding he believes that’s a good indication they enjoy assisting the festival and serving the hundreds of locals and visitors who attend. “It’s just a great community-builder, because it’s not just Seaside that participates.”

During the event, families also voted for their favorite among the donated trees that were auctioned off during the gala.

“We had some absolutely beautiful trees,” Ward said.

This year, the People’s Choice Tree was Stay and Play in Seaside, a unique “tree” made from a ladder and strung with elegant purple and silver ornaments. The tree was designed by Dawn Fujiwara-Pavlik, of BAMM! Promotional Products.

The tree with the highest bid at the evening gala and auction was a Toast to Jan Martin, donated by Ryan and Stephanie Snyder of Martin North. Jan Martin, Stephanie Snyder’s mother, died in February 2018. Jan Martin and her husband, Steve made a significant impact in the hospitality and real estate development industries on the North Coast and were well-respected in the community.

The Toast to Jan Martin tree went for $8,200, a record at the Festival of Trees, Ward said. Overall, the foundation raised about $195,000 at the gala and auction.

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