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Colfax woman helps decorate White House for holidays

Acrich participates in project with 130 volunteers
By: Martha Garcia, Colfax Record Editor
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“She’s a rock star.” That’s how Sarah Acrich, of Colfax, describes First Lady Michelle Obama. Acrich was part of a team of 130 volunteers who helped decorate the White House for the holidays over the Thanksgiving weekend, which was capped off with a visit by Obama during a reception on their final day at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. “Everybody was so excited to see her,” Acrich said. “She is as lovely as she appears, so gracious. She thanked us. That was the highlight – to see her and hear her speak.” Working from her Colfax studio, Acrich operates Cuttings Floral Design, specializing in weddings and parties, mostly in the Sacramento area. Creativity runs in her family. It was her brother, Bob Beukema, an interior designer from Phoenix, who learned of the opportunity for volunteers to decorate the White House for Christmas. “We filled out the application and got word in October that we were accepted to go to Washington as a volunteer … We pay for the plane fare … our own hotel,” Acrich said. Acrich and her brother arrived Thursday night, Nov. 24, and started work the next day in a storage facility in the greater Washington D.C. area. “It holds all things White House,” Acrich said. “We were there for two days organizing, assembling. Bob and I worked on making four-foot wreaths … everything is big scale.” She described the warehouse as a “beehive of activity,” where the volunteers, who represented 40 states, put their talents to work after having been assigned a particular room to design and decorate, using a theme that had already been chosen. “They kept the theme a secret from us; they didn’t want it leaking,” Acrich said. “They wanted Michelle Obama to reveal it later.” Acrich and Beukema worked on the Grand Foyer and the East Room with a group of about 20 in each room. “It was a lot of work to do. I was pretty much on a cherry picker scaffold, 20 feet in the air, doing the garland … (near) a stairway that leads to the private residence where the Obamas live upstairs,” she said. “You were awestruck at first; then as the days go by you’re just working.” On Nov. 30, the volunteers, who had previously gone through background checks, lined up in front of the White House entrance where they were met by the Secret Service before being given a tour of the White House prior to the volunteer reception. “Many of us, including myself and my brother, had never been there,” Acrich said. Acrich called the reception a trial party, where recipes are tried out and staff gets to practice their assignments. “Everything went perfectly and smoothly. As our reception ended, they cleared us out and others – military families -– were coming in ... The parties are back to back.” According to Acrich, the White House will entertain 85,000 visitors this holiday season. Volunteers were allowed to take a guest to the reception, and Susan Barnsdale, of Christian Valley, flew to Washington to accompany Acrich to the party and on the White House tour. Barnsdale said what she liked most was seeing the portraits – especially the one of Benjamin Franklin in the Green Room, and the military Christmas tree, the Gold Star tree, as you enter the White House. “It was quite an experience,” Barnsdale said. “The State dining room was gorgeous. Everything nook and cranny was decorated; it was spectacular.” Barnsdale said she knows it was a thrill for Acrich to have participated in the special holiday project. “She looks at it as the People’s House,” Barnsdale said. “It doesn’t matter who the president is. It is the People’s House.” The White House is also home to Bo. Other than Michelle Obama’s visit to the reception, Acrich said the only other Obama they saw was the family’s dog.