Monday, December 8, 2008

A Trees for Troops blog from Steve Drake

Trees for Troops -- Growing Again

Well, I've been on the West Coast since Monday (12/1) as part of the Trees for Troops program for the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation, one of our client partners.
This is my fourth year being part of Trees for Troops ... and, I'm discovering that it is continuing to grow ... expecially in excitement among military families and in coverage from the news media.
In the first three years, we were able to provide fresh, farm-grown Christmas trees to 34,000 military families. Our goal this year is to reach another 16,000 families which means we've touched 50,000 families in four years.
And, this program is possible only because of the trees donated by more than 800 Christmas tree farms and the thousands of miles, trucks and drivers provided by the wonderful folks at FedEx Freight.
I started my trip assisting in the delivering of trees to soldiers at Ft. Lewis which is located between Olympia and Tacoma, Washington. The MWR folks at Ft. Lewis are adding to the program again this year. And, for the first time, the weather cooperated and was nice when we delivered the trees. A second shipment is scheduled for this coming week. It appears that we have more families seeking trees than we have trees available.
Ft. Lewis designated Sgt Jason Lane (shown being interviewed on radio) and his family to receive the first tree in 2008. Unfortunately, his wife and daughter were ill so he had to select the tree on his own.
Friday, I made two stops at Camp Pendleton in Southern Calfornia. I don't know how but the "CP crew" continues to outdo themselves in activities around Trees for Troops! Even more Marines and families waited at the San Onofre community center ... and all 300 trees were gone within 45 minutes!
Then, it was on to the "main site" ... wow! what an experience ... more than 650 families (thus probably more than 1,200 people) at the landing zone. All kids of activities from Saturn cars to Shamoo the whale and donated Calloway golf balls and about 40 FedEx volunteers wearing their purple FedEx Cares shirts and "Santa hats."
[As I arrived at the main site, several of the Camp Pendleton leaders said they saw a Trees for Troops story on CNN ... and that they already have ideas of how to make Trees for Troops even better in 2009!]
This year also included a special guest ... Anthony Galloway of NBC News in New York who is developing a special feature on Trees for Troops. He thinks it will air between December 20-22.
At his request, the Pendleton folks had selected two families that Anthony would follow from selection of their trees to putting it up in their homes. (FedEx donated tree stands.)
Cara Figueroa and her daughter Estrella joined Andrea Baker and her daughters Lilly and Molly in getting the first trees. Lance Cpl Rene Figeuroa and Cpl Sherman Baker are both deployed in Iraq and won't be home for the holidays.

As you can see in a couple of the photos at the top of this blog post, Lilly, 3, was the real "ham" as she climbed on their tree and proclaimed "my tree" to the cameras! Next, she was on top of the tree as Base Commander Colonel James Seaton and two Marine volunteers (Cathey Kimberly and Thurman Lanel) helped load the tree.

Watching Lilly's face is what makes Trees for Troops so special.
Colonel Seaton gave a short speech just before the volunteers started to unload the FedEx trucks. He said he was personally thankful to the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation (and the 800+ tree growers) for the trees for the Marine families. He said the gifts were a huge boost for morale for the Marines and their families. I was humbled when he came over to me to thank me as the representative of all the tree growers who are part of Trees for Troops.My Google News Alert picked up this blog from a Marine wife at Camp Pendleton ... it really makes you feel great to see this appeciation for the gift of a fresh, farm-grown tree.
"Today, I was given a clean bill of health, AND a Christmas Tree! After my doctor’s appointment this morning I went to the area on base where they had ‘Trees for Troops’. A bunch of sponsors had tents set up for special drawings. We Might win a Wii or cash, but most likely we’ll get a lot of sales calls and junk mail. I’m okay with that. It was so cool to see over two thousand Christmas trees set out in rows for all of us. Brett couldn’t leave work so I went by myself. Our neighbor had gotten there super early to get our tickets. After everyone had a ticket and all the trees were off the tucks, they started calling numbers in groups of 25. I had number 52, so there were literally hundreds of trees from which to choose. The trees were already bundled so it was a tough decision; but I went with my “That’s OUR Christmas Tree” feeling when I came to a semi-plump six footer. It was only after I got the tree home, in the stand, and untied that I realize how plump this tree is. Good thing we only have the couch in here. But, oh how beautiful. Brett pointed out that is is a Fur tree and that’s why it’s so pretty. I’m letting the branches fall tonight, but I can’t wait to put the lights on. The smell has taken over the house. I love it. And to top it all off, the temperatures are finally falling. Not like home of course, but I might be retiring my flip-flops before Christmas….Maybe."What an inspiring message for all of you who have donated trees and/or worked on the Trees for Troops program!Well, I'll be off to Tampa Monday to be part of delivering trees to MacDill Air Force Base.Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!Steve

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