This blog entry is from Steve Drake, CEO of the National Christmas Tree Association and the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation. Steve was traveling along with the West Route of the Trees for Troops program sponsored by FedEx and the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation. To learn about and follow this program which is providing more than 3,500 Christmas Trees to military personnel and their families who otherwise would not be able to have one go to www.christmasspiritfoundation.org.
Trees for Troops: Week 1 …… what an awesome week!
The media coverage was outstanding... just overwhelming…and snowballing. I’ve been trying to keep up with at least four “live remotes” and lots of other TV and newspapers. And, there are indications of even more media coverage next week. In fact, I will be on a Fox News Network interview Monday morning.
Some stats (based on information today) …FedEx has picked up 3,064 trees (out of the expected 3,839) …and reports its trucks have traveled 2,476.7 miles through 12 states.
I had the privilege of following most of the West Coast route which included picking up trees at KLM Farm, Silver Mountain Tree Farm, Batagglia Ranch and Peltzer Pines as well as being part of the deliveries to Ft. Lewis and Camp Pendleton.
So, the media was huge and getting bigger. But, today (Friday, December 2) the real reason for Trees for Troops came to life. Our experience at Camp Pendleton was inspiring. I wish you all could have been there... let me try to give you a sense of it.
Camp Pendleton included two stops…an 8:30 AM stop at the north gate to deliver about 200 trees to families and an 11:00 AM stop to deliver about 700 trees to the main section of the base. We arrived at 8:15 to find the FedEx truck had arrived early and there was a line of more than 100 families waiting patiently to select their trees. Thanks to about 15 FedEx volunteers, the twin trailers were unloaded in about 45 minutes. Then, the families took over …in less than 30 minutes, all 200 trees were gone! One woman told a cameraman that they had not been able to have a Real Christmas Tree for the last five years and she was so excited to get one since her husband was coming home Monday.
Then we drove to the main delivery point at Camp Pendleton. We were about 15 minutes ahead of the FedEx trucks, and as we arrived at the pickup location (which had been empty Thursday), I couldn’t believe all the cars parked. We walked to the pickup site and I was startled to find about 300 families already lined up to get a Christmas Tree! The Marine officials told us that the first family (with two little kids) had arrived at 7:30 just to be sure they would get a tree. As the FedEx truck pulled around the corner, the crowd started to cheer. Again, the families waited patiently until they were given the signal (one by one) to start picking out their trees. And, Marines / families just kept coming and coming…until we were completely out of trees (in less than two hours)!
The joy and gratitude were clearly evident. One woman (wearing a “Marine mom” sweatshirt) came clear across the tent to personally thank Jim Heater (a Christmas Tree farmer representing our industry) for providing the trees. The little kids were excited. I got a photo of three kids “riding their tree” as though it was a toy horse. And, the Camp Pendleton base commander (a Marine colonel) thanked Jim and I and all the Christmas Tree growers in such a thoughtful and sincere way that Jim and I both choked up. As Jim said, it was very humbling.
So, after six hotels in seven nights, I’m wiped out and exhilarated!
The Trees for Troops program has clearly impacted families who are putting their lives on the line for our freedom. It has been very moving.
Monday, we start again…and will be delivering trees to families at three more bases.