Thanks to the efforts of local residents, some soldiers serving overseas this holiday season will be able to enjoy the presence of their very own Christmas tree.
Assemblyman Marc W. Butler, R-Newport, and groups of local residents, including schoolchildren, are working together on the annual Trees for Troops Project, which gives military personnel serving in Afghanistan and Kuwait Christmas trees and decorations for them.
"It gives them the feel of home in the midst of a time when many of them will be feeling the effects of being away for the holidays," Butler said. "Last year, we had the highest donation in the region, so I can only hope we can do the same this time around."
Tom Herba of Herba’s Acres Tree Farm in Johnstown cuts down a Christmas tree that will be sent overseas as part of the local Trees for Troops effort. Herba said he donates about 10 trees every year to the effort.
The Leader-Herald/Levi Pascher
In the Trees for Troops Project, organizers collect donations to buy real trees and decorations. They then ship the items to the soldiers.
Each tree costs $25. The cost includes decorations and shipping.
Local tree farms contribute numerous trees at no cost, so much of the $25 goes toward paying for the lights, decorations and the small shipping cost under an agreement with FedEx, officials said.
FedEx delivers the trees to more than 60 military bases.
The Trees for Troops Project, a nationwide effort, is a joint venture between the Veterans of Foreign Wars, DHL Express and the American Citizens for Soldiers in Service.
Butler has been working with Gloversville resident Belle Bruse to gather donations for this year's local effort.
Bruse said she became involved in Trees for Troops to show the soldiers that people back in the states haven't forgotten about them and their service is appreciated during the holiday season.
"I was brought up in the VFW and have always been shown what you need to do for our veterans," Bruse said. "I just felt I needed to do whatever I could to help those serving in any way. These military units overseas are preserving our freedom and fighting for us, so we need to show our appreciation any way we can."
She said sacks of cards made by local Boy Scouts will be sent with the trees to further lift the spirits of the soldiers.
Bruse said organizers will allow people who donate to submit names of their family members or children overseas so their units can be among those receiving the Christmas trees, but she added there are no guarantees.
"They will do all they can to make that happen," Bruse said.
Herba's Acres Tree Farm and Goderie's Tree Farm, both in Johnstown, are local tree nurseries contributing to the effort.
Tom Herba, a member of the family-owned business, said he has been a part of the Trees for Troops effort for eight years.
Herba said he's happy to provide at least 10 trees every year to the effort and help lift the spirits of military personnel.
"I think everybody should support our service families," he said. "They go through a lot and don't have their husbands or wives around when they are out of the country. They are taking care of us, so I feel it's only right we take care of them."
He said the Christmas trees give troops a sense of tradition. He said the smell of a holiday tree often can't be found in other countries.
The students and teachers of Wheelerville Union Free School presented a check to Butler last week for the Trees for Troops Project totaling $227, which equates to about nine trees.
"This is the largest single donation for the campaign this year, and they will really appreciate that touch from home," Butler told the students and teachers after receiving the check. "Many [soldiers] are pretty young, and Christmas away from home can be difficult for them."
As of last week, Butler's office had raised nearly $1,500 for this year's campaign.
The school raised money by setting up a Christmas tree in the school. Staff and students could buy red, white and blue stars for $1. The money went to the Trees for Troops effort, said district Superintendent Richard Ruberti.
"A couple of teachers bought full trees because they have children in the service, but even us being a smaller district, I'm really happy with how much support this received on all levels, from the students all the way to the teachers and staff," Ruberti said.
Since 2005, Trees for Troops has provided more than 122,000 Christmas trees to military personnel.
"I am especially proud to be a partner in this program," Butler said. "This is a wonderful way to say thank you to men and women separated from their families on this holiday so that we can enjoy security and freedom."
Anyone who wants to take part in the holiday project for soldiers can make checks out to Proctor Hobson, Post 1896 VFW. Trees for Troops should be put in the memo space.
Checks can be brought into or mailed to Butler's Fulton County office at 33-41 E. Main St. in Johnstown. Donations must be received by Saturday.