For Avery Moen, a senior at Midway Public School, decorating a Christmas tree as part of the annual “Festival of Trees” display at the Columbia Mall brings the meaning of the holiday into focus.
“I love Christmas,” Moen said, after she and her classmates finished trimming an artificial, pre-lit tree in gold and white ornaments and garland. “It’s about giving to others and families that are in need.
“It’s fun to see other trees, too.”
There are about 55 trees on display in the Sears wing of the mall, and another six trees at the CanadInn, said Christie Potts, executive director of the L.I.S.T.E.N. Drop-in Community Center, which began hosting the event 27 years ago.
Students at Midway Public School students have been sponsoring and decorating a Christmas tree every year since the event started.
It’s a holiday tradition for Midway students, said Rebecca Sauvageau, a senior, adding she enjoyed coming up with a design and a theme for the seniors’ tree. The gold-and-white theme was inspired by the motto, “Stay gold,” from the movie “The Outsider,” she said.
Midway juniors also decorated a tree, as did middle school students. All 16 students who decorated trees Monday, Nov. 25, are members of the Student Council.
The council funds the project through fundraising events, such as root beer float sales, dances and “wear a hat on Fridays for a dollar,” Sauvageau said.
Jason Keating, principal of Midway Public School, said the project “is something we take pride in; the teachers really support the kids. It’s ingrained in our school now.”
Each tree is decorated according to a special theme or color palette. Besides ornaments, some trees are trimmed with gift items, such as toys, boxes of crayons or kitchen tools.
With sponsorships from local businesses, groups and individuals, the L.I.S.T.E.N. center purchases the trees and businesses’ employees and others decorate them. After about a week on display, the trees are given to needy families in Grand Forks, Traill and Polk counties. Whalen’s Moving and Storage has volunteered to deliver trees to families who are unable to transport them.
The names of the families are provided by county social service and Lutheran Social Service offices and St. Joseph’s Social Care.
Funds raised through the Festival of Trees project are used to purchase the trees, Potts said. Any extra funds are used to support programs and activities for the L.I.S.T.E.N. center clients and to build awareness of “the importance of accepting people as they are,” Potts said.
Some businesses have been sponsors for years, she said.
Others groups and families are involved too, this year, including Special Olympics, the Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts of Minto, N.D., and the Pathfinders Club.
The local Dak-Minn Blood Bank decorates a tree every year, said Monica Janssen, who was also busy on Monday placing ornaments on an artificial Christmas tree.
“It’s a great way to give back to the community,” said Janssen, donor relations coordinator for the blood bank. “The community helps us so much. And there are always people in need of (a tree).”
All the trees are pre-lit, which “is awesome,” said Janssen, as she positioned six-inch-long bells on branches.
“I saw these bells at Hobby Lobby and I thought, this is it, this is our theme: silver bells with a pop of red.”
Janssen is pleased with this year’s turnout for the charitable project.
“I’m glad they can get this many people to come out and decorate,” she said. “It’s nice that the community comes together for this.”