WORTHINGTON - Area residents will soon be able to peruse a variety of uniquely decorated Christmas trees in a forest - all from within the comfort and warmth of the great indoors.

Now in In its eighth year, the annual Love INC Christmas Tree Forest will be open for public viewing from 3:30 until 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday at First United Methodist Church, 408 11th St., downtown Worthington. The lights will be dimmed around 6:30 or 7 p.m. each evening, and hot cider and cookies from the Panaderia Mi Tierra Bakery will be served.

The forest is free and open to all ages, but Love INC volunteers stressed it serves as the organization’s only annual fundraiser, which helps the organization remain operational to fulfill its mission of helping churches help neighbors in need. The organization’s fundraising goal is $10,000.

To reach that goal, organizers encourage individuals to come and vote for their favorite Christmas tree or trees.

People can also make a pledge to become a “Love Supporter” - someone who is committed to supporting the organization throughout an extended period of time - by specifying an amount and duration to have a monthly withdrawal from their bank account.

People who pledge will also get tickets to vote.

Love INC Board Member Phyllis Meyer said youths are also generous, dropping loose change into the buckets to cast their vote.

“To hear that - to me - is just wonderful,” she said about the pennies, nickels and dimes hitting the bottom of the bucket. “You can tell it’s from their piggy banks.”

Meyer encouraged families to come view the forest, adding that special kids’ activities are planned. But kids and families are not the only ones that enjoy the forest, said Love INC volunteer Karen Caraway.

Area nursing homes make special arrangements so that their residents can get out and enjoy the forest’s beauty, as do youth groups, preschools and other community organizations that take tours together.

Votes will be tallied and the winners announced at Thursday’s finale. Winners will also be posted on Love INC’s website, loveincw.org.  Winners will receive bragging rights and a plaque.

While the forest can be a magical experience, its purpose goes far beyond its aesthetic appeal.

Comprised mostly of volunteers, Love INC helps identify and verify an individual’s needs to mobilize churches into action.

Caraway explained the organization as the front office for the 19 community churches involved. Love INC volunteers collect information to verify the legitimacy of a need, and upon approval, identify what will be most useful, she said.

This helps the churches, who want to help people in need but don’t always know how or what will be of most use, Meyer added.

“Churches appreciate the help of Love INC because then they don’t have to be guessing how to help,” Caraway said of the streamlined process.

For more information about Love INC’s fundraiser, contact Caraway at 360-0163.