The trees were lit and the stockings were stuffed with toys, lots and lots of toys that is, as people gathered at the Oregon Convention Center on December 2 for the 28th annual Providence Festival of Trees Gala Dinner and Auction. With signature cranberry cocktails in hand, around 800 guests came adorned in sparkling dresses and tuxes for an evening of Yuletide cheer. Mr. and Mrs. Clause were spotted in the holiday village among the rows of gingerbread houses and Christmas wreathes, and the Brown Sisters performed holiday classics for a glamorous crowd that could easily outshine the aurora borealis.
But cocktails and hors d’oeuvres weren’t the only things on the menu for the evening. Charity was the main course of the night. Holiday festivities felt anything but excessive when it came to raising money to help give Providence patients the gift of joy and the comfort of home. Proceeds from the event are earmarked for building affordable housing for patients and their families at Providence Portland Medical Center, in addition to helping fund Providence Health & Services programs. The spirit of giving was in full swing, not only among guests but also in the trees. Local companies and decorators came together to create the 29 themed trees up for auction, complete with everything from board games to winter and Parisian vacation packages. Indeed, the trees are designed to continue giving long after the night is over, such as the Walking in a Winter Wonderland tree with its snow-covered branches and LED icicles that hung over 300 new pairs of shoes pre-donated to needy children in Portland.
Guests spent the first part of the evening mingling around the trees and the smaller silent action items, including gift baskets of wine and miniature University of Oregon and Oregon State-inspired trees. The Building Dreams from Childhood tree drew in crowds of LEGO enthusiasts. The base of tree was surrounded with box-sets of LEGOs, including the hard to find LEGO advent calendar, MP3 players, watches and flashlights. The tree itself was decorated with all LEGO ornaments created by students at Oregon Episcopal School, including a one foot tall LEGO man.
The Clauses were not the only famous faces among the group this year. Alice and the Mad Hatter attended to promote ‘Twas the Night of the Curious Dreams, an Alice in Wonderland-themed tree complete with a Cheshire Cat, a giant chess game, a croquet set, and a table already set for tea, not to mention a portable DVD player that played Disney’s Alice in Wonderland throughout the night.
Come dinner time, Mr. Clause, standing in an unusual for Portland snow flurry, invited everyone to lantern-lit tables to dine on spice-rubbed New York steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes, and for those who saved room for dessert, a slice of chocolate peppermint patty cake. Master of ceremonies Steve Dunn from KATU-TV started the live auction while auctioneer Steve Talbot reminded people that being charitable is fun (“It’s only money, enjoy spending it!”). Combined efforts raised $940,000 to benefit Providence programs including the Providence Child Center, cancer research, Gately Youth Academy and the Providence Medication Assistance fund. Of that total raised, $600,000 came from the special appeal at the Dec. 2 Gala, dedicated to guest housing near the Providence Portland Medical Center campus for out-of-town patients and their families receiving care at the hospital.