The Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center was abuzz Tuesday as hundreds of volunteers bedecked 60 trees with varied ornaments, sprays of glitter and festoons of sparkling lights for this weekend’s 26th annual Festival of Trees.
“Attention designers,” an announcer asked over the audio system, “does anyone have a spare extension cord?”
Carly Petersohn of Fircrest sat quietly amid the wonderland chaos with her laptop computer while her mother, relatives and friends decorated a tree she helped design for her senior project at Tacoma School of the Arts. Petersohn, 19, has been to the event, an annual benefit for Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and Health Center, every year since she was born.
But this was her first year as a designer.
While the themed trees are the big draw for weekend crowds, they also each come with a prize package; items include extravagant getaways, and a chicken coop and the animals to live inside it. The packages and trees will be auctioned off at a private gala Friday, and the goods will be delivered and set up at the winning bidders’ homes on Monday.
The goal is to raise $1.75 million to help finance an expansion of the Mary Bridge Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Since the first Festival of Trees in 1987, the event has raised nearly $21 million for projects at the hospital.
Britany LeRoy, the volunteer event chairwoman and a pediatric emergency room nurse at the hospital, says she uses equipment at work every day that was paid for with money from previous festivals.
“I’m very grateful,” she said.
Petersohn, who is autistic, says her favorite holiday is Christmas.
Her tree theme is the “Puzzle of Autism,” and is decorated with small red glitter puzzle pieces and photos of people with autism, including Temple Grandin, the subject of books and movies for her deep understanding of animals.
“I always wanted to meet Temple Grandin,” Petersohn said. “She’s like one of my autistic heroes.”
Designing the tree during the past year gave Petersohn and her mother the opportunity to reach out to Grandin, who sent an autograph and copy of her book to the teen.
The prize package also contains a painting of a train that Petersohn made several years ago that’s also significant to her.
“ ‘The Little Engine That Could’ is one of the special things that I like,” she said. “The book was very inspiring to me.”
Across the hall, another first-time designer was putting what looked to be the finishing touches on her Hollywood-themed tree.
Lauren Shoemaker, 12, is dedicating the tree to her cousins, who have been in and out of Mary Bridge since birth due to a mitochondrial disorder. Shoemaker, who lives in Normandy Park, can’t attend the auction to see what her tree fetches – it’s a 21-and-older event – but she has high hopes.
“As much as we can get,” she said, then added, “Enough to help out.”