From an angel hidden in an animal-print tree to a fenced winter wonderland, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in downtown Akron.
Hundreds of volunteers are spending this week decking the halls at the John S. Knight Center for the 31st annual Akron Children’s Hospital Holiday Tree Festival.
The Akron holiday tradition kicks off with a preview gala Friday night, followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony and Kids’ Day festivities beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday.
As in previous years, admission is free.
“It’s such a great thing for the community,” said Mary Leuca of Akron, chairwoman of this year’s tree festival. “It’s awesome. People are always smiling.”
This year’s event features 156 full-size Christmas trees decorated in a variety of themes, along with many miniature trees, wreaths and other holiday decorations.
Area residents, businesses and community groups donate all items. Proceeds from the sale of the trees and other decorations benefit medical research, education and patient-care programs at Children’s.
Since its inception, the tree festival has raised more than $3 million for the pediatric hospital.
Like busy elves, about 1,400 volunteers work throughout the year to pull off the annual event. Christmas spirit was everywhere Wednesday as volunteers assembled and adorned their trees.
Many have personal ties to Children’s that keep bringing them back to the tree festival each year.
Linda Hartong, of New Franklin, carefully hung striped ornaments on “Santa Claws,” an animal print-themed tree she and her husband, Chip, donated.
The festive feline tree is the third creation the Hartongs have given to the Holiday Tree Festival in honor of their niece, Tracy, a former patient at Children’s who died from cancer more than 20 years ago at age 18.
Tucked on a branch amid the cat-print flowers and ribbons is a small angel.
“I always have an angel somewhere in the tree in her honor,” Linda Hartong said.
Across the room, Patty Schutte-Hoover of Hartville was busy creating a magical snowy scene called “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”
The tree and decorations, donated by her employer, Nichols Fence Co. in Akron, featured, not surprisingly, a white picket fence.
Schutte-Hoover said she has felt a special tie to Children’s since her son, now 26, spent the first 2½ months of his life in the hospital’s neonatal intensive-care unit.
“It’s such a wonderful cause for the community,” she said.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.