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Trees For Troops Program Brings Hope to Hundreds of Military Families at Christmas

Every year, hundreds of Christmas trees are donated to military families, filling their hearts with holiday cheer


For many military families, the holidays can be a difficult time, emotionally — many have loved ones deployed — and financially.

Such was the case for Amber Keller, a Navy wife with five children, ages 8 to 16. With her husband, Lt. Timon Keller, deployed, she was having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit.

Like often happens, the family had moved between several bases, so she didn’t have family living nearby or close friends to celebrate with. And with a tight budget, decorations and gifts were likely going to be sparse.

“I didn’t know how I could keep up Christmas traditions and make things magical for the kids,” Amber shares with Woman’s World.

But the answer came in the form of real, live Christmas tree, a gift from the Christmas Spirit Foundation’s Trees for Troops program.

Soldiers working for Trees for Troops, unloading trees
Soldiers unloading Christmas trees Christmas Spirit Foundation

A heartwarming idea takes root

In 2005, Pam Helmsing, then director of the National Christmas Tree Association, was talking with other members, marveling over stories they were hearing of big-hearted Christmas tree growers, who, each season, would give away a tree to someone who was struggling.

“Why don’t we do something like that? We’re all about Christmas trees and Christmas cheer!” Pam offered.

The members loved the idea, and the Spirit of Christmas Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the Christmas spirit, was born, with the group deciding to make a Christmas tree giveaway its focal project.

As the members batted around possible recipients, one idea got unanimous support: Trees for Troops!

Trees for Troops program members
Trees for Troops program membersChristmas Spirit Foundation

“It felt important to let these brave, selfless people know that someone cares about them, supports them and appreciates the sacrifice they—and their families— are making for the good of the country,” Pam shares. As word spread, there was immediate enthusiastic support.

Related: 150,000+ Military Families Receive Holiday Meals — Read The Heartwarming Story

Spreading love and cheer

Each year, between 250 and 300 tree farms participate in Trees for Troops and provide the trees, supported by donations from the public. Other organizations donate tree stands and ornaments, to free up even more money in family budgets to buy toys and other gifts to put under their tree.

Soldiers carrying out trees and spreading Christmas cheer
Soldiers carrying out trees and spreading Christmas cheerChristmas Spirit Foundation

When leaders at FedEx heard about the program, they signed on to ship the trees on trailers to military bases for free. On average, Trees for Troops provides about 15,000 to 16,000 trees every year to nearly 100 military bases. This year, the project will hit the 300,000th tree mark!

Soldier carries tree from FedEx truck
Soldier carries tree from FedEx truckChristmas Spirit Foundation

“The gratitude just melts your heart”

Amber will never forget the way her kids’ faces lit up when they attended the Trees for Troops celebration and distribution event and saw the tree that they’d get to take home and decorate. And for Amber, “It was a relief for me to have this expense off my holiday list,” she says. A sentiment shared by many recipients.

Family receives the Trees for Troops programs' 200,000th tree
Family receives the programs’ 200,000th treeChristmas Spirit Foundation

“Thanks to the donated tree, we can have a nice Christmas dinner!” people tell Pam, who is now a Spirit of Christmas board trustee.

Related: One Couple Is Honoring Our Heroes By Renovating and Building Homes For Veterans

Others message their heartfelt thanks

“We are stationed on NCBC Gulfport where my husband serves with the Seabees. Our family received our tree last night at the base tree lighting event. What an amazing gift! These four kiddos are very excited to start decorating a real, something we didn’t expect to be able to do this year,” one grateful recipient writes.

Soldier smiling while holding tree
Soldier smiling while holding treeChristmas Spirit Foundation

“Thank you so much for this generous gift. We feel so blessed and grateful,” another adds.

One mother’s letter was especially touching: “On Saturday, my children and I drove to Camp Pendleton to participate in your wonderful program, she wrote. To be honest, it took everything in me to hold back tears. This holiday season we are spending it apart from my husband. If I could, I would have skipped over Christmas. … Tears quickly shifted to smiles as we were greeted by smiling volunteers and joyful carolers. The whole event lifted all our spirits.”

Two soldier volunteers holding trees
Two soldier volunteers holding treesChristmas Spirit Foundation

“When we hear things like that, we know that we’ve achieved our mission,” Pam says.

Karen Williams coordinates Trees for Troops at the Fort Story joint military base in Virginia Beach. Watching families get their trees is an amazing, heartwarming experience, she says.

“The kids are running with glee. They hug their tree,” Karen says. “For the parents, it’s relief. There’s just this joy that resonates through the parents’ eyes. They think: This is a piece of joy that I can give my child. The gratitude just melts your heart. To know you are part of that is an incredible gift.”

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