The mission of the Christmas Spirit Foundation is to advance the Christmas Spirit for kids, families & the environment through programs & activities.
Christmas Spirit Foundation’s Spirit Award
As the Trees for Troops program continues to grow since it first started in 2005, the CSF Board of Trustees recognize that success of the program depends on many people being involved. People support the program various ways including sourcing trees to donate, coordinating volunteer efforts to load/unload trees, raising funds to support the program or just creating awareness.
In 2018, the Trustees formalized their recognition of individuals/companies for superlative support of the Trees for Troops program. This honor is represented by the Christmas SPIRIT Award.
Each year, the Trustees review nominations for families, companies and/or individuals and present them with the award, thanking them for their creative and extraordinary support.
2022 Christmas Spirit Award Recipients
The Christmas SPIRIT Foundation (CSF) celebrated five individuals/organizations in 2022 for their contribution to the Trees for Troops program. Here are their stories:
Karen Williams, On-Base Coordinator at JEB Little Creek-Fort Story (JEBLCFS) in Virginia Beach, has gone out of her way for 15 years to make sure the T4T event is as inclusive as possible. While her installation is under the purview of the Navy Mid-Atlantic Region, it also serves as a joint base for several branches of service and is located within about an hour of bases from all five military branches. Each year, Williams works with the Family Readiness Office of each branch to support the wide range of personnel. Receiving the Christmas SPIRIT Award left Williams feeling “humbled, honored and pleasantly surprised”.
“I wish you could feel the joy that countless U.S. service members and their families and children feel when they take a tree home that they could not otherwise afford,” explains Williams. “After troops and their families leave with a Christmas tree, what remains in my mind and heart are their tight, warm, long hugs, their uplifted lightness of being, their burst of laughter stifled way too long, and their bright smiles of gratitude. In those moments, they do not feel forgotten, underappreciated, weary, or alone. How blessed and honored am I to witness all of this? These moments will stick with me, for the rest of my life.”
One example of Williams’ dedicated service comes from the past year in which there was the need for an unexpected last-minute pick up of 100 donated trees in eastern Pennsylvania. While coordinators scrambled to find a base close enough to have FedEx retrieve and deliver to families still in need of a tree, Williams was able to contact the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation office for each area base with the additional tree information, while simultaneously scheduling space and time on her own base for the trees to be arranged for families to select. This all happened a full week after William’s own base tree giveaway event took place, which ultimately led to her coordinating the T4T program twice in the same year.
Other examples of Williams’ dedication include her recent work in judging the 2022 T4T holiday card contest, and her annual assistance in coordinating a large tree recycling program with the base Natural Resources Office. Williams explains that JEBLCFS supports an “Ever-Green Circle of Life” in which trees are given to the bases, followed by bases giving the trees to troops, and finally troops giving trees back to the base each January to be placed on dunes, beaches and in lakes to benefit the base ecosystems.
“The repurposed trees give us a legacy that helps save our shores, dunes, and lake aquatic life. Re-using the trees gives us better stewardship of the earth,” explains Williams.
She would like the public to know how much she truly appreciates the farmers, FEDEX employees, and T4T organizers for their year-round work that allows the T4T program to take place. “It is this endeavor that makes the world a kinder and much softer place for the service members, spouses, and kids. Joy-filled troops and families leave with a tree and smiles so bright they shame the stars. The laborers, the tree farms, FEDEX and the Foundation are the unseen force behind this most splendid endeavor, each year, at many military bases.”
Williams would like to thank everyone for allowing her to annually participate in the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation’s “most endearing philanthropic effort”. “It has been, and is a grand honor to execute, in the field, your vision to improve the troops’ quality of life during the holidays.”
Anthony and Tyler Cerbo at Cerbo’s Parsippany Greenhouse in Parsippany, New Jersey, have participated as a trailer drop/official T4T location for four years, while putting in extra efforts to promote the program to local and regional media outlets to maximize local awareness and participation. Tyler explains that much of his family participates in the T4T effort in addition to his father, Anthony, and himself. Tyler works in Parsippany with his aunt, while his brother runs the wholesale yard, and his uncle and father run between all locations. Cerbo’s became involved with Trees for Troops in 2018 and has served as both a sales location and a pick up spot hosting several FedEx Freight trailers.
“Donaldson Farm is a friend of ours that we’ve known for a really long time,” says Tyler. “When one of their guys started talking to me about it (T4T), I hadn’t heard of the program before, but thought it was a really good idea. Getting involved seemed like a no-brainer in my opinion!”
When asked how receiving the Christmas SPIRIT Award made them feel, Tyler explains that it was “awesome”. “There’s a lot of effort and energy put behind something like this, and to see people from all over the country really getting behind the effort for our military is really cool!” said Tyler.
Tyler explains that there have been a lot of memorable experiences surrounding Cerbo’s part in the program over the years, including receiving donations from corporations and employees around the country who just want to be involved.
“My best friend used to work at our farm and had planted seedlings for Cerbo’s. He later left to serve in the Army, and after completing his service, came back to our farm where he was able to harvest the same trees that he’d originally planted…so it’s all come full circle in that respect!” says Tyler.
Cerbo’s would like people to know that T4T is something that’s so easy to contribute to, whether it is through promoting the program or contributing financially for our military members and their families. “The cause is so genuine, and so easy to get into, that I’d encourage everyone to get involved,” explains Tyler. “We thank the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation for the opportunity to be involved with this because we’re thrilled to be a part of it!”
Randy and Denise Wood of Wood Mountain Christmas Trees in Temecula, California, have shown commitment to the T4T program since 2014 through their role in the retail Christmas tree business. Wood Mountain organizes tree fundraisers for groups like schools, non-profit organizations, and church groups which, in turn, register buyers to raise funds for their individual causes. The company then delivers fresh trees and wreaths from partners in the Pacific Northwest to participating organizations for their fundraisers.
Randy explains they initially became involved in T4T because they wanted to expand their company’s fundraising program. “We wanted an alternate way for folks to get trees, so we contacted Trees for Troops and they were happy to let us participate,” says Randy. “We started with their blessing and have been active ever since! It seemed like a perfect partnership to add the Trees for Troops program to our fundraising options in 2014. The opportunity to “gift” a tree and/or a wreath to an active-duty military member and their family and the organization at the same time is truly a “win-win” for individuals who may have an artificial tree or perhaps live out of state”.
The Wood’s commitment and innovation have made Wood Mountain a bedrock of the T4T program, supplying approximately ten percent of all trees donated to military bases nationwide. This has often made Wood Mountain the largest single supplier of donated trees for years. They even coordinate the addition of a special T4T tag with a hand-written message to be placed on every tree. Once the Trees for Troops donations are sold, Randy then manages a multi-day tree loading event in Oregon, often loading up to six full FedEx trailers with donated trees.
“In 2020, we added a beautiful wreath to the program. Each wreath is adorned with a patriotic bow with a scripted message, ‘Thank You for Your Service’,” says Randy. “The customers love that they have another option when participating in the fundraiser to show their support to our troops.”
When asked how receiving the Christmas SPIRIT Award made them feel, Randy explained, “You know, we don’t ever do things for awards. We just do it from the heart, and it seemed logical for us to participate. Our relationship with Trees for Troops has been fantastic. We sent about 2,000 trees last year, and plan to do about 2,500 this year because it keeps growing.”
Randy further explains that his father was in World War II, and his brother was in Vietnam, so he personally knows just how important supporting the military is. “We depend on our military every single day and this is a way that we and our customers can say thank you to them,” says Randy. “Trees for Troops is an amazing program with a mission that truly touches many families and lifts their spirits during the Christmas season.”
Greg Smith of 7G’s Tree Farm became involved in Trees for Troops in 2006 after his brother, former President of the Georgia Christmas Tree Growers Association (GACTA), passed away shortly after making a first donation of seven trees in the inaugural Trees for Troops campaign.
“We continued our donations through another farm collection point that year, which ignited a spark that maybe we could do more,” says Smith. “Prior to 2007, our GACTA director asked for a volunteer to take on the coordination of our efforts, and it just seemed like the right thing to do! While I’m not a veteran, I often tell people that this is my own tour of duty to honor my father who went missing in action in China during Christmas in 1944.”
The 7G’s Tree Farm was founded in 2001 by Smith’s brother, Gary, after their father passed the land on to his sons and daughters, whom he always called “his 7 G’s”. Gary’s wife, Liza, was actively involved in T4T until her passing earlier this year, and Greg’s wife, Jennie Smith, daughter, Amy Smith, sister, Greta Ivey, and nephew, Brad, all remain actively involved.
Smith was nominated for the Christmas SPIRIT award in acknowledgement of his service as the coordinator for all the participating tree farms in Georgia for the last 15 years. This included the coordination of 18 farms that provided trees, along with eight that served as pick up locations, and several additional Georgia farms that participated by collecting local sponsor gifts and jar donations for the cause.
Smith’s outstanding service in 2021 was highlighted by his assistance with the first-time T4T sponsorship from Georgia Power. It became clear that to meet the company’s expectations and maximize the value of their sponsorship, a local T4T participant would need to become involved, and Smith stepped up and helped ensure that it happened.
“It was gratifying to be able to help put together the load of trees for Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, Georgia at the last minute,” recalls Smith. “Georgia Power sponsored all the trees, and to have them all come from a Georgia farm was great!”
Smith shared other memorable stories from recent years that included a donation of 50 “surprise” trees to help fill a shipment at a collection point where things were running behind and the commitment was not otherwise going to be made. Another story involved 18 farms within the GACTA that donated a combined 710 trees to T4T in a single year. “I got quite emotional when I attended a distribution of trees at Fort Stewart near Savannah, Georgia in 2007,” remembers Smith. “Six trailers of trees were unloaded and distributed by the Better Opportunities Single Soldiers staff of soldiers from Fort Stewart.”
“I thank the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation for putting this together and giving me the opportunity to do something worthwhile,” says Smith. “After 71 years, you want to look back and see that you did something right!”
Steve Van Camp, Phelps New York businessperson and Vietnam War veteran, has been actively involved in the organization and promotion of Trees for Troops for over a decade. His outstanding service has included coordinating events at multiple VFW posts and American Legion posts (including his own – Seeley B Parish Post 457) to help raise funds for the trees, as well as recruiting volunteers throughout the year to tag, transport, and load trees.
“I became involved because we are a veterans organization that helps our fellow vets and thought that this (T4T) would be a perfect project,” says Van Camp. “We tried it for the first time in 2012, and help came around, so it turned out very well!”
When asked to relate any specific challenges and/or successes from the past years, Van Camp humbly replied that they were “always just trying to help”. Receiving the Christmas SPIRIT Award was greatly appreciated by Van Camp, but he wanted to be sure to note that it was a group effort.
Van Camp encourages citizens of all ages to find out about Trees for Troops and to help support it by “whatever you can do, including passing the word along”.
He remembers being “happy to get cookies while in the service – let alone a Christmas Tree” and would like to keep the Trees for Troops program going for as long as needed.
Spirit Award Recipient History
2021- Dewey Romagnoli, Romagnoli’s Oneida Valley Acres, Lehighton Area School District, Warren Miller, Miller Plumbing and Heating, Pam Helmsing
2020- Tom and Kerry Dull, Farmside Acres, Noble Mountain Tree Farm, Bill Wilczek & Barbie Beck-Wilczek, Mahoney's Garden Centers, Auto Savers Group
2019- Harry and Juanita Peckham, Mark Watts
2018- Steve Drake