It’s Gala Season in Seattle—the peak months of parties and fundraisers for cultural and charitable organizations. One of Seattle’s most storied and festive gala events is the three-day celebration of Providence O’Christmas Trees. Taking place the week after Thanksgiving at Westin Seattle, O’Christmas Trees has become a tradition for countless families, a sign that the holiday season is in full swing.
The O’Christmas Trees events have many loyal patrons, comprising community partners, philanthropists, and regional healthcare leaders. But there are new faces every year, especially at the Family Preview, a free community event preceding the big gala-night. And this year is a special anniversary, as it marks 160 years since the Sisters of Providence incorporated their charitable works, laying the foundations for what we now know as Providence Health & Services. That makes Providence the second oldest, existing not-for-profit corporation in the state of Washington. In fact, that makes it older than Washington state itself.
The Past and Present Providence
In 1856, Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart and four other Sisters of Providence arrived at Vancouver, in what was then the Washington Territory. They came to answer a call for help from a new pioneer community. There were no schools, no established hospitals, and people were struggling to meet basic needs.
The sisters responded with courage and determination, always keeping in mind the poorest and vulnerable. They established the first schools, hospitals, orphanages and other institutions of care to serve the new communities. In 1859, they incorporated these diverse missions as Providence. Their persevering spirit persists in today’s Providence Home and Community Care (PHCC) network, which addresses the full continuum of health care, from birth to end of life. PHCC also serves communities with programs to provide shelter and a sense of belonging for seniors with low incomes or people who are disabled.
Today, the eight ministries of PHCC in King County are Providence Elder Place, Providence Heritage House at the Market, Providence Hospice of Seattle, Providence Home Services, Providence Infusion & Pharmacy Services, Providence Mount St. Vincent, Providence Marianwood and Providence Supportive Housing. Their services reach over 40,000 people and include hospice, home care, assisted living, nursing homes, skilled nursing, infusion, care for the elderly and supportive housing for the poor and vulnerable. The Providence O’Christmas Trees Gala raises funds to support all of them.
Photography provided by Vivian Hsu and HRV Media
Holiday Partying With a Purpose
That brings us back to the present, and the upcoming O’Christmas Trees gala celebrations. In the past, the funds raised at this gala event were what kept the lights on at some of the facilities in PHCC. Consistent care is critically important to PHCC, because historically it provides care and support for life to those in its network, regardless of patients’ ability to pay.
Providence’s hospice care is a prime example of this and has been a critical part of the messaging at past Providence O’Christmas Trees gala events. There are very few facilities for seniors who need housing and healthcare but have no savings. PHCC’s programs also serve other vulnerable populations in King County, including individuals and families facing homelessness. At the core of Providence’s service, there is a foundational belief in the dignity of human life, regardless of gender, age or ethnicity, let alone one’s lack of health or wealth. This year’s O’Christmas Trees gala event emphasizes the need for support for the diverse population experiencing and affected by homelessness in our region.
Patricia Szabo is the Executive Director of PHCC Special Events and an institution in the Puget Sound events community with connections throughout the Pacific Northwest. A tireless, enthusiastic and compassionate advocate for her cause, Szabo has worked for Providence for over 25 years and been dedicated to O’Christmas Trees for almost twenty years. Her personal interest in fashion, eye for detail, and networking skills ensure that O’Christmas Trees continues to orchestrate innovative fundraising and event campaigns. In fact, many components of her events have been adopted throughout the Puget Sound and the greater event industry.
“I love finding inspiration for my work everywhere; colors for a particular event, the texture, and look of the paper used for an invitation, what to say and how to say it when talking to a potential donor,” she says. But the most fulfilling aspect of her job is “the feeling of satisfaction when I have successfully cultivated new supporters because I know that it all makes such a significant impact on those we serve.”
Szabo has also been critical in forming a wide array of community partners drawn to Providence’s cause. They include Bellevue Healthcare, Windermere, Denali Advanced Integration, Microsoft, SolluCIO Partners, GK Group, City Sound Wave, and Vanguard Seattle.
Over 15 million dollars have been raised through events during Szabo’s tenure. In an industry that is notorious for sudden changes and emergencies, Szabo is known for her poise, all while ensuring that her team maintains a good work-life balance in order to meet the next challenge. For when it comes to throwing parties for critical services during the busiest time of the year for both, there will always be a challenge.
The First Week of December is Tree Time
The three-day celebration of Providence O’Christmas Trees 2019 kicks off on Monday, December 2 at the Westin Seattle Grand Ballroom. It all begins with the free and public Family Preview from 4 pm to 8pm. Guests of all ages enjoy the spectacularly decorated trees along the ballroom’s walls, each a unique work of art. The kids get to express their own creativity at craft tables. As is also a tradition at this event, there will be live performances by from Casper Babypants, choirs and dance companies, photos with Santa, milk, and cookies, and a face painter. And this year, the Seahawks game will be televised in a Monday Night Football viewing area for the fans.
On Tuesday, December 3 the Westin Grand Ball Room is converted from an open house format to a 600-person space for the Silver Bells Luncheon, with shopping booths from local vendors Glassybaby, Click! The Design that Fits and Fran’s Chocolates. This year’s luncheon feature’s a live jazz performance of A Charlie Brown Christmas performed by The Jose “Juicy” Gonzales Trio. There will also be a raffle for five Ben Bridge jewelry pieces.
The O’Christmas Trees event calendar culminates on Wednesday, December 4 with the Providence O’Christmas Trees Gala Dinner & Auction. This event is the organization’s largest fundraiser of the year, attended by over 800 guests, dressed to the nines: tuxedos, suits, cocktails dresses and ballroom gowns. Around one hundred items will be available in the silent auction, and two dozen live auction items. In addition to the raffles and paddle raise, these funds will support another year of services through PHCC’s ministries, at a time when people need this kind of support more than ever.
PHCC Special Events Home Page: https://washington.providence.org/donate/giving