Ski poles, a Dr. Seuss hat, stuffed unicorns, orange ornaments, an artificial black Christmas tree, tea cups, a Fort Hays banner and a miniature black chalk board.
Those are just a few of the unwanted treasures Kathy McAdoo stumbled upon while digging through donation boxes dropped off over the past five months to Arc of Central Plains Thrift Store.
Now those discards, and lots more, are part of 13 artificial Christmas trees, each custom decorated with a unique theme and available for purchase through silent auction.
The goal is to raise money for Arc’s nearly $2 million accessible playground complex planned for Hays.
“It’s unique because all the trees, and the decor on the trees, are donated,” said McAdoo, executive director of Arc and one of the tree decorators. “It has taken months to bring together. As donations come in they’re packed and stored for Christmas. Then we started pulling the items in July.”
The trees are on display in the Arc office, 600 Main, along with bid sheets, for anyone who wants to see them and make a bid above the opening minimum.
On Dec. 5, the trees will be relocated to the lobby of the Chestnut Building, 1200 Main, where they’ll be on display for the Hays Arts Council’s annual Winter Art Walk.
Each of the 13 Arc trees and all their decorations were culled from donations the past year.
“It’s weird how it comes together,” said McAdoo, who explained the decorating process while giving a tour of the trees. “You don’t really know what the tree will look like because you don’t know what you will find.”
There have been a bunch of happy accidents, like a tree decorated by Flowers By Frances, 2424 Vine St., with its gold and cream ribbons lacing through navy and cream color ornaments, with plastic white poinsettia leaves.
“This tree, I hadn’t even planned, but I opened a box and saw this sign, ‘Rejoice,’ and that became the inspiration for this tree,” said McAdoo. “We call it the Rejoice tree.”
At any time, a bidder can pay the stated “buy it now” price and purchase a tree outright. Each one of the trees, however, will remain on display through Dec. 6 at the art walk.
Arc Board President Sarah Meitner helped McAdoo with the decorating. Meitner tried her hand first with what became the “Disney tree,” decorated with merchandise from Toy Story, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Nemo, the dwarfs, Donald Duck and others.
“The tree skirt is a tutu that we found unpacking Halloween costumes,” McAdoo said.
Meitner also did the “Dr. Seuss tree,” which she topped off with a hat from Cat in the Hat.
“I didn’t even know I liked doing this,” said Meitner. “I offered to help because it seemed like an overwhelming task, so Kathy asked me to start with the Disney tree. I like doing creative things, and then there’s also the treasure hunt part of it; I just think ‘Let me see what else I can find.’ ”
On one occasion, digging around in the store, Meitner found some rare orange-colored Christmas ornaments, and then some purple ones, which brought to mind a rainbow tree she’d seen on Pinterest.
“This might be the ‘Imagine’ tree,” McAdoo said of the multi-colored tree. “We have a campaign starting for the park, called ‘Imagine.’ It’s for our kids, ‘Imagine playing where I have no boundaries.’ ”
With its peace dove nestled among the branches, and reminiscent of Noah’s Ark, Meitner said the “Imagine tree” touches on the Arc’s mission of enriching the lives of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“That wasn’t an intentional thing,” she said, “but it seemed like a happy accident.”
To get the trees decorated, McAdoo sorted objects related to each theme onto separate long tables at hand for the decorators.
“The trees are packed, they’re loaded,” Meitner said, “and they’re so festive and joyous.”
Her “Unicorn Tree” turned out pink and purple, with all things unicorn scattered among the branches. McAdoo’s “Elf Tree,” in traditional Christmas red and green, ended up with a little sign tucked into the greenery that reads “When you stop believing in Santa you get underwear.”
“My grandmother always used to do that,” McAdoo said. “On Christmas Eve, we got to open one present and we were always afraid that that was the one we were gonna choose.”
Each tree has a special name. Looking at one with blue decorations and a “Peace” sign, Meitner paused and said, “Maybe this is the ‘Merry and Bright Tree?' ”
McAdoo decorated another, “Peppermint Lane,” with candy cane color ornaments, red bells and white bulbs.
For custom local flavor, there’s the “Fort Hays tree,” which came about when a gold and black stuffed tiger and a Fort Hays banner emerged from some donation boxes. Decorated by Flowers By Frances, the black artificial tree is topped with an FHSU pompom, glittery gold fern and lots of black and gold ornaments and ribbons.
Besides “Snowy Day” in white and silver, a tree not yet completed with its plaid ribbons, is evolving into “Mad About Plaid.”
Then there’s the one that McAdoo thinks of as “Ski Lodge,” but which Meitner calls “I spy with my little eye,” since she’s reminded of the children’s game with its ski poles, a wooden sled, a ball of yarn, miniature hip waders and other objects.
“See what you can find in a thrift store?” McAdoo asked. “You have to dig, and you have to dig repeatedly.”
Donations to the Arc playground complex can be made at haysarcpark.org or by contacting Arc of the Central Plains at 600 Main or 785-628-8831.