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Melissa Schwan spent some time in the lobby of Virginia Gay Hospital on Thursday afternoon (11/1). She was one of the first to start setting up and decorating the tree titled “Lights of Christmas” that she is donating to the annual Holiday Tree Walk. It may be the first year she’s given a tree, but her handcrafted ornaments have been around since before the first Tree Walk was ever held at the hospital.

“This is my first year participating, but I have always loved Christmas, and it just felt right to participate,” Melissa states. She and her family (husband, Mike and two children) have made Vinton their home for the past five years. She’s been Vinton Unlimited’s Director for four years.

“Growing up in northeast Iowa, my church parish had a festival of trees fundraiser each winter. Parishioners and community members would decorate trees, and you could purchase tickets to view them. Being very young and still living with my parents, I got the crazy idea to decorate a tree and make my own ornaments. Luckily my Mom was supportive and willing to help me. We asked everyone we knew to save us their old lightbulbs until we had enough to decorate a large tree. We ended up painting the bulbs to look like Santa, snowmen, reindeer, and penguins. It was a success! That was probably 15 years ago, and I figured that it was probably time to pass along the ornaments to a new home.”

Melissa joined several others this week in magically transforming the hospital’s lobby into a holiday haven with a wide variety of impressive displays all up for bid.  This year marks the 10th anniversary of Virginia Gay Hospital’s silent auction – the Holiday Tree Walk. The first event was sponsored by a department of the hospital and garnered $1,000 in donations for the hospital’s annual campaign. There were 19 trees on display that first year.

The event has grown in popularity during the past 10 years and now regularly features 50 or more uniquely decorated holiday trees, wreaths, and displays. Annual proceeds of the Tree Walk are donated to the Virginia Gay Hospital Health Care Foundation’s annual campaign, The Tree of Lights.

The 2018 event officially kicked off on November 1 in the main lobby of Virginia Gay Hospital. Bidding for this year’s silent auction will continue until 5 pm sharp on Tuesday, November 20.  Winning bidders will then take their items “home for the holidays” to enjoy.

“This event has a wonderful impact on the morale of our staff and our patients,” says Kim Frank, Human Resource Director and one of the event’s original organizers. “The holidays are a difficult time to be in the hospital, but this little bit of holiday cheer seems to help everyone.”

Trees and decorations for the tree walk are donated by local individuals, businesses, and departments of Virginia Gay. An incredible amount of thought and creativity goes into each item on display. Many donors have participated for several years and spend a great deal of time planning and preparing what they donate. And they don’t disappoint. A great deal of the fun is to see what new ideas they come up with each year.

Often times, displays have themes like a favorite Christmas movie or a tribute to a favorite sports team. Exhibits have also been fabricated from unusual items like horseshoes, plush stuffed toys or beverage coolers. There is usually something for everyone.

For the second year in a row, Farmers Savings Bank & Trust has signed on to be the event’s corporate sponsor.

“We are delighted to have the opportunity again this year to be a sponsor,” states Darlys Hulme, Farmers Savings Bank & Trust president. “We have a long-standing tradition of providing excellent service to our banking customers, but we realize that our business can only be as strong as the communities we serve. By supporting this event, we are doing our part to improve and continue health care in Benton County.”

Proceeds from this year’s event will go to the VGHHCF Annual Campaign: Tree of Lights. Funds raised will be used to improve the care provided to patients of Virginia Gay Hospital and the quality of life for residents of VGH Nursing and Rehab. For more information, please visit www.myvghfoundation.org.