SYCAMORE – The Midwest Museum of Natural History marked the holiday season by outfitting some of its mounted animals in Santa hats and filling the museum with 21 trees, each uniquely decorated by a local organization.
"We provide the trees and the lights and they provide the decorations," said Cindy Chang, acting director of the museum.
This is the fourth year that the museum has hosted the Festival of Trees, in which local businesses and organizations rent and decorate an artificial tree at the museum and then encourage their followers, customers, supporters, and members to vote for their tree by placing monetary donations in that tree's voting jar.
The decorated trees are squeezed into almost every available space on the upper level of the museum. The top three fundraisers in the business and nonprofit categories receive trophies, and all funds donated to the voting jars are used to pay for activities and expenses at the museum.
"The money all goes to the museum, and it's good advertising for everyone," said Sandy Hoffman, member of the DeKalb County Quilters Guild, which decorated one of the trees.
"All the little kids want to vote for their favorite tree, and they might put two or three dimes in (the jars)," Hoffman said.
In 2012, the guild was the top fundraiser, and this is the third year the guild has participated in the event.
"The first two years, we were getting ready for a quilt show, so we thought that would give us some publicity because (members of the public) would be coming to see the trees," said Hoffman. The guild has about 100 members, which is one of the reasons they were able to collect so many dollars and votes last year.
This year the guild's tree is decorated with homemade ornaments and garland made from ribbon and tiny wooden thread spools.
"Some of them were my mother's, so they are very old," Hoffman said.
The members of Girl Scout Brownie Troop 381 in Sycamore also decorated their tree with homemade ornaments, including hand-sewn animal toys the troop intends to donate to TAILS Humane Society after the tree comes down.
Kim Mangia of Cortland, co-leader of the troop, said the troop's tree not only helps the museum, but promotes the Brownies and helps the animals waiting for adoption at the local shelter.
"It's fun," said Mangia's daughter Angelina, 9.
"It's a real great experience to be able to walk through and see how the community comes together," Chang said.
The museum's Festival of Trees continues through Sunday, Jan. 5. For more information, visit mmnh.org or call 815-895-9777.