12/22/2012 7:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant New York Correspondent
WEBSTER, N.Y. — Rick Wilbert, partner at Wilbert's Tree Farm, supports Trees for Troops for a very important reason: his son-in-law who's in the Navy. "Last year, I was able to send him a tree on his ship," Wilbert said. "It was a personal thing for me. It's patriotic."
Wilbert's has been involved nearly since the Trees for Troops inception in 2005 by Christmas SPIRIT Foundation in Chesterfield, Mo. Since then, the organization has donated 103,186 Christmas trees to military families and troops stateside and overseas. FedEx delivers the trees at no cost to more than 60 military bases.
Each year, the official kick-off takes place in mid-November. The planning, however, begins long beforehand.
Rick Dungey, representing Christmas SPIRIT, said that the organization contacts all five branches of the military at the Pentagon to offer the donated trees. Officials from each branch respond with a list of bases where they would like trees delivered.
"We connect with each base individually and work out a delivery day, and how many trees they want at each base," Dungey said.
Once Trees for Troops receives totals from the bases, they figure a total and begin contacting state and regional Christmas tree associations. Most of those assign an area coordinator who contacts the farms in his region and asks how many trees they would like to donate.
The organizers also set up collection sites and dates, and coordinate with FedEx so that trucks will be available at the right time at the farms and tree lots. Volunteers help FedEx and farm employees load donated trees.
"It's quite a logistical undertaking," Dungey said.
Once a base receives the trees, it's up to authorities at that base to distribute them. Some offer them on a first-come, first-served basis. Others hold a drawing. Still other bases leave it up to the Morale, Welfare and Recreation officer to decide which family receives trees.
All told, Trees for Troops delivers more than 17,000 trees annually. The organization is a 501c(3) tax-deductible organization.
Wilbert's donated 30 trees last year, 10 of which were donated by customers. Wilbert also collects trees from a few other farms and transports them to a collection site.
Customers donating trees may even write a personal note on a tag to attach to the trees they've selected. Allowing customers to sponsor or donate trees helps smaller farms more easily afford to participate in a larger way and encourages community involvement, too.
In addition to donating some of its trees to Trees for Troops, The Rocks Estate in Bethlehem, N.H., "...gets a lot of community involvement like school kids helping load trees and getting of other businesses involved in sponsoring," Dungey said.
Farm manager Nigel Manley operates "Forever Green," an educational program for school children. He weaves in volunteering with Trees for Troops as part of the curriculum for the 5th grade students.
"They learn about fundraising from different community members," Manley said.
Corporate sponsorship can help get more trees to military personnel and it helps businesses beyond the tree farm to create good public relations.
"If you ask them, overwhelmingly, they do it because they want to," Dungy said. "It doesn't have to do with direct benefits to their business. They're supporting a cause they personally believe in with their business.
"A lot of farms and retail lots make a big deal out of it ,and end up getting a lot of stories written about the program and their participation in it. But most farms say it's the least we can do."
About 800 farms nationwide participate.
"Lots of people love that we do it," Wilbert said. "It's part of the season to give."