Trees for Troops brings joy to military and their families
for Tri-State Livestock News
Like the song suggests, Christmas trees bring hope and comfort to people waiting out a cold and dreary time of year. The bright green color and refreshing smell remind us that winter is temporary, and the unchanging leaves bring a steady, slow comfort to a busy time of year. Colorful, shining lights create a sparkle in the eyes of children and adults alike, while the gifts waiting beneath bring anticipation and joy to all. But not everyone gets to enjoy the pleasure of a Christmas tree. Some people are fighting for the freedom to celebrate Christmas. Those people are our military service men and women who often celebrate in a foreign country without holiday traditions. Thanks to a program titled Trees for Troops, though, our military can “Ooh” and “Ahh” at a tree of their very own.
Trees for Troops was created in 2005 through a joint effort by the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation, the National Christmas Tree Association, and FedEx with the goal of providing free, farm-grown Christmas Trees to all branches of the U.S. armed forces members and their families. The Christmas trees are grown on American tree farms, gathered through the effort of volunteers, and shipped by FedEx across the U.S. and around the world to more than 60 military bases. Since its creation, Trees for Troops has delivered over 122,000 farm-grown trees, bringing the true spirit of Christmas to thousands of deserving service men and women and their families
Christmas tree grower, national association board member, and veteran Don Spilker organizes the Trees for Troops effort for the state of Nebraska. His farm, Spilker’s Pineridge Tree Farm, is located in Lincoln and works as a central location for Christmas tree delivery and pick up as many of the tree farms are located in the Southern and Southeastern part of the state. He explained, “Tree growers bring trees up here to us and I do all the arranging for the number of trees. FedEx comes to pick up the first Monday of December and we get help loading trees from not only FedEx and the tree growers, but also from the local VFW post.” He estimated that 80 Christmas trees had been donated from Nebraska farms in 2013 which was down compared to recent years due to two bad years. “It takes a long time to recover … trees are a slow crop.” But even with the slow year, Nebraska’s Christmas Tree Farms are making a difference in the lives of military families. This year, Nebraska-grown Christmas trees were sent to military members and families on the Fort Carson, Colorado Army Military Base.
As a veteran, Trees for Troops is more than a charity to Spilker, it’s a way to give back. He said, “I was in the service myself and we never saw a Christmas tree on base when I served in ’52, ’53, and ’54. Back then, Christmas for the troops just didn’t amount to much.” Since becoming involved in the program, Spilker has had the privilege of seeing his donation make a difference in the lives of younger veterans. This year on his tree farm, a young veteran who served in Afghanistan spoke with his wife and described his time in the military and what it had meant to him to receive a Christmas tree from Trees for Troops. Spilker commented, “It was really exciting to talk to someone who had been through the program.”
Even with the Christmas tree donations, volunteer time, and free deliveries, Trees for Troops can still benefit from donations. Spilker explained that through the tree donation process, Christmas tree growers take on a tremendous amount of expense growing, harvesting and preparing the trees for shipment. One of the largest expenses is shipment, to which he noted, “If it weren’t for FedEx, the program wouldn’t happen.” FedEx donates the entire shipment from pick-up to delivery anywhere in the world. To keep charitable programs like this going, the Foundation relies upon donations from the public. Donations can be provided online, but a much simpler solution for many people shopping for real Christmas trees is the Trees for Troops donation box at the local tree farm.
“It’s an excellent program. Anything we can do to help military families and providing trees … that’s a real plus,” said Spilker. Military members and their families sacrifice many of their personal comforts which can be more obvious during traditional holiday times and gifting a Christmas tree during the season of giving is a unique way to help these families feel more at home.
“I think about the military families. Children really light up at Christmas time and it gives you a good feeling to know that you helped make Christmas for them,” said Spilker, “I’m glad to give them that gift in appreciation for what they do for us. It just makes your heart feel good.” Musical lyrics recognize the Christmas tree as a symbol of goodwill and love, which is exactly what Trees for Troops is all about: sharing Christmas and spreading love. If an evergreen tree can bring joy, peace, and love to these military members and families, it is no wonder we sing, “Oh Christmas tree!”
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News