‘A blessing in disguise’: Community outcry over Christmas tree brings small town together

NEWPORT, Wash. — Christmas trees come in all shapes and sizes. Decorating them is like working with a blank canvas — the sky’s the limit. Well, when Newport’s downtown Christmas tree was all done, some people were not too happy with how it looked.

“It wasn’t really great. Kinda poorly decorated,” said Fritz Turner.

The tree’s lights are on the tree vertically with a few strands touching the ground.

“It’s almost like they didn’t have the time for it this year. They were just kinda like throw the lights up, get it done. I think it would be better without the lights honestly,” Turner said.

The tree is owned by the museum, kept up by the Centennial Plaza, and the electricity bill goes to the Newport Area Chamber of Commerce. The Pend Oreille Public Utility District decorates the tree.

When Turner saw it driving by, he got an idea.

“I wanted to make a joke of it really, so I made a GoFundMe,” Turner said.

It went viral overnight.  Turner says he poked fun at the tree’s looks. On the post, Turner told donors he wants to take the money and do a better job at decorating the tree next year.

As of Wednesday night, the fundraiser is up to $2,300. Community members and businesses have also donated directly to the city.

The tree’s unusual decorations and Turner’s post got Chamber of Commerce President Jason Totland’s attention.

“There’s been a huge community outcry to have the tree look better,” Totland said.

That’s when the Newport native got an idea.

“We haven’t had a tree lighting ceremony in at least a decade,” he explained. “We’ve had at least 30 volunteers step forward willing to get down here, decorate, make things look better.”

Totland and other volunteers are organizing a tree lighting ceremony. It will be held on Saturday, Dec. 11 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The community is invited to see Santa, get free hot chocolate and gift bags for the kids.

“I’m really inspired by how quick the community gathered to put on this event,” Turner said.

Totland says he is grateful for the PUD’s time to put up the lights. However, he is not sure if the tree will be redecorated before the lighting ceremony.

As for the GoFundMe money, Turner says he hopes to meet the goal and buy new lights for the tree next year. The lights they need range between $3,000-$5,000.

“It’s really cool that something that started out as a joke became something so big, and I’m just inspired to do more work for the community,” he said.

That community is looking forward to making the town shine a little brighter this holiday season and during other holidays.

“We’re struggling with a lot of our holidays and our lack of volunteers, so we’re going to use this momentum to make sure that some events come back to Newport,” Totland said. “It’s a blessing in disguise for sure.”

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