GREEN BAY — Military families living in Texas are decorating real Christmas trees this holiday season thanks in part to the generosity of Wisconsin growers.
As part of the 14th annual Trees for Troops program, about 600 trees were donated by Wisconsin tree farms at pick-up sites in the cities of Green Bay, Wausau and Oregon on Nov. 26.
Amid bitter cold and brisk winds, farm representatives loaded trees onto FedEx trailers, then watched as they headed to nearby highways en route to the Lone Star State.
“I am just so incredibly grateful for what our military does and the commitment they make,” said Green Bay site coordinator Paul Schroeder, who brought 65 balsam trees to Lambeau Field from North Countree Christmas in Wausaukee.
“Our military makes a lot of sacrifices, like not being with their families at Christmas. So it just seems like a wonderful way for us to give something back during the holidays.”
Trees donated in Green Bay were shipped to Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph and United States Coast Guard Field Office Galveston. Meanwhile, trees dropped off in Wausau headed to Fort Hood, and trees donated in Oregon were sent to Fort Bliss.
The Trees for Troops program, sponsored by the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation and FedEx Corp., collected about 17,000 Christmas trees in 29 states this year. The Christmas SPIRIT Foundation was established in 2005 as the charitable branch of the National Christmas Tree Association.
The vast majority of the 6-to-8-foot donated trees are distributed to military families at more than 60 locations throughout the United States; about 250 trees are shipped to troops in the Middle East and other countries.
Each tree comes with a tag that reads, in part, “We hope that this Christmas Tree brings the spirit of the holidays to you, wherever you are.” Tags also include space for information about the donating farm and/or a hand-drawn picture often created by children.
Jon Bigler of Rolling Hills Tree Farm in Waldo donated 15 trees for the 13th consecutive year. He said the Trees for Troops program is especially meaningful because he was stationed in Alaska for some of his 2½-year service with the U.S. Army in the 1960s. He added that his brother, Tom, received three Purple Hearts while serving in Vietnam.
Bigler said he occasionally receives letters from families who receive donated trees.
“One time I got a letter from Fort Knox, Kentucky,” he said. “They both were in the military, but the year they got my tree was the first time they spent Christmas together since they were married. So that makes a guy feel good.”
Also at the Lambeau Field site donating 20 trees was Dave Vander Velden of Whispering Pines Tree Farm in Oconto. He has been involved with the program since its inception.
“We owe everything we have to our troops so we can celebrate Christmas the way we know it,” Vander Velden said. “I do whatever I can to help people in the service. They have always done a great job for us for many years.”
For more information, visit www.treesfortroops.org.