Festival of Trees decorators work with a purpose

Nov. 15—WATERTOWN — Holiday spirit filled the air at the Salmon Run Mall Wednesday morning, as preparations began for the North Country Festival of Trees.

Ninety trees are to be decorated this year by various organizations, businesses and members of the public who signed up. The trees will be sold through an auction that runs from Nov. 25 to Dec. 3. Free public tree viewing is also available throughout this time frame.

All the proceeds are to benefit Samaritan Medical Center Foundation of Northern New York and the Watertown Family YMCA. The volunteers were allowed to decorate from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.

Like elves at the North Pole, they were busy putting up colorful lights, wrapping garland and ribbon, hanging every kind of ornament imaginable — and working their way onto Santa's nice list.

High on that list is a group of three women from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who were decorating a tree that belonged to their friend and fellow churchgoer Melinda Worthington, who they said died last week after battling illness.

Worthington had planned out a nutcracker theme for her tree, and the women wished to carry out her plan.

They carefully wrapped the special garland that Worthington had chosen, talking amongst each other to decide on the best placement. They selected wooden nutcrackers out of a small chest and placed them under the tree.

Finally, after much consideration, it came together.

Shining bright with lights, wearing a proper adornment and guarded by a family of nutcrackers — they knew Worthington would be proud of how her tree turned out.

Those women weren't the only ones working with a purpose.

Members of the Trisomy 21 Foundation of Northern NY, located on Park Drive, were placing a large blow-up candy cane while spreading word of their organization's mission, which is to improve the quality of life for adults and children with Down syndrome, through funding, education and research.

For some of the decorators, their mission was simply to create something unique that will benefit a good cause. One of these people was Ashley Giacchina. At her station, a sprawling pile of decorations cluttered the floor around a "Wizard of Oz"-themed tree. A bright "Yellow Brick Road" sign was the focal point of the tree, as well as a stuffed Toto inside a basket that was nestled into the lower branches.

Giacchina said she was nowhere near done and was waiting on her neighbor Candice Frandsen, who had originally asked her if she would like to team up on the project. Giacchina, an avid decorator herself, who begins putting Christmas lights up in October, said her response was, "I'll help, I love decorating!"

Dawn Atwood, community relations and event coordinator for Samaritan Medical Center who helps organize the festival, said there are two new events open to the public this year.

On Nov. 25, from 2 to 4 p.m. there will be a Polar Express event, and on Dec. 2, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. there will be a gingerbread house event.