Paying it Forward, One Christmas Tree at a Time

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A great deal of good came out of an unchosen Christmas tree this past week on the St. Marys School tree lot.

On the way home from Sunday school, my son and husband ran into our friend Jeff, who asked if I knew of any charities who might want any Christmas trees that were left over from the St. Marys School Christmas tree saleif there were any left at the end of the day. Instantly, we all thought of the folks living in transitional housing and another acquaintance from my sons school, a single dad, Carl, with two small children who had lost his job and was having problems finding employment.

I tried several times, unsuccessfully, to reach Carl, and when I finally did talk with him a few hours later, he hesitated. He said that he had been doing odd jobs and painting to earn some money for Christmas and he was saving up to buy a small artificial tree. Moreover, he did not want to take charity. In the background, his son begged him to take the real tree. Carl continued and thanked me but said he could not afford a tree stand and so he would go ahead and get the artificial tree. I responded that it was not charity but simply a Christmas tree in need of a home because no one bought it. Plus, I told him that I was sure I could round up an extra tree stand. So, to the cheers of delight from his son, he agreed to accept the tree when I brought it over.

Fired up by the enthusiasm of the little boy who was elated that he was getting a real tree, I headed down the street to get my car and go pick up a leftover Christmas tree from the St. Marys lot. On the way down the block to my car, I ran into some neighbors and told them the story. One of my neighbors, John, with his young son on his shoulders said, We were just talking about getting a tree. Our roof was ripped up in a storm and everything from our attic is in the living room while its being repaired, but we could have a tree outside. Here is some money. Why dont you buy one of the left over trees for us, and I will pay for your friend Carls tree too.

So I raced off to the St. Marys Christmas tree lot where they still had a number of trees left but were doing a brisk business in the late afternoon hours. I explained to some friends who were running the tree sale fundraiser for the school that I did indeed want any left over trees for charity, and I wanted to purchase two trees. The St. Marys tree sales volunteers sold me one tree for my neighbor and insisted I take another tree, at no charge for, Carl that had a bit more bulbous profile than the standard triangle Christmas tree profile. When I dropped off the purchased tree at my neighbors house, John insisted that I keep the money he had given me and use it for a Christmas tree stand or whatever Carl needed.

Now, armed with cash and a free tree, I headed to CVS to buy some lights, candy canes and a tree stand for Carl. However, while they had lights and candy canes, CVS had no tree stand. I asked if any other nearby CVS might have one and explained why. The CVS employee sprung into action and started calling all of the local stores looking for stands for me. On his fourth try, he found a CVS store with five tree stands. So I paid for the lights and candy and headed to the next store.
As I looked down at my CVS receipt, I saw it read $5 off holiday goods. At the next CVS, thanks to the sale on tree stands and the coupon, and my neighbors contribution, the tree stand cost me nothing.

My next stop was the tree delivery. Carl and his kids were thrilled with the tree, the stand, lights and candy canes. He said, Please let me know if I can ever do anything for you, and I insist on paying you for the tree stand. I was able to honestly respond that the tree stand did not cost me a penny and I was glad that he liked it.

The following morning, I drove past the St. Mary Schools virtually empty tree lot, and it was tough to tell how many trees were left. When I dropped my son off at his school and told the free tree story to another parent, I concluded the tale by saying that I was going to ask a friend with a pick-up truck to help me move the last couple of trees left on the lot over to the transitional housing apartments or the housing projects. There, I planned to buy a couple of tree stands and leave them by the trees with a sign that said Free to a Good Home. The parent I was speaking to, Chip, said I have a truck. My daughters and I will help you move the trees later this week.

On Wednesday night, we showed up at the St. Marys tree lot. There were only four HUGE trees left. After pushing, pulling and finally loading three trees, his truck was full. There was no chance that the last and the largest tree would fit in the truck. We decided to take the trees to Carpenters Shelter because they were so big and then we would come up with a plan for the remaining massive, but beautiful tree.

Just then a brand new mega-pick-up truck pulled up in the dark and two people jumped out. A man said, Greatyou have big trees left! I am looking for a really big Christmas tree and they are all gone. We have driven all over town. How much are your big trees? I explained that the St. Marys School sale was over and we were taking the leftover trees for charity. The guy with the mega-pick-up truck asked if he could make a donation to the charity and buy one of the large trees. Since we could not fit the last giant tree into the more modest size truck anyway, I happily took their donation for St. Marys School in exchange for the really, really large Christmas tree, which we then helped him load onto his truck.

Our next stop: Carpenters Shelter. Unfortunately, they already had four large trees, but they asked Inova Hospital if they would like one of the big Christmas trees since Inova was hosting a party for the Carpenters Shelter residents when we stopped by. The response was that the hospital would love to have one, but the fire code would not permit a real one. No worries. We thought we would see if a local home for the mentally challenged would like the trees. Nope. They were all treed up, too.

This was a nice problem to have: trying to find a place to donate three gorgeous Christmas trees that needed a home. We decided to give them to three local elementary schools, and we left them by the front door of three schools. Our thinking was that if the school did not want them or could not use them, surely some family would be delighted to have a free Christmas tree.

I do not know what happened at two of the three schools, but I called one school at 7:15 a.m. to tell the principal that we had left a big tree by the front door. She suggested that perhaps we could decorate it and have any member of the staff who was interested throw their name in a hat. Then she could draw a name to see who on the staff got to take the large tree home. The principal noted that there was no tree stand. I promised to try to find one. A short time later, another mom commented on the tree leaning against the school building and when I told her the story, she gave me a $5 CVS card that she had sitting in her car and asked me to use it for someone who needed a tree stand or something for Christmas.

Meanwhile, I headed to the gym where someone in my gym class agreed to donate her unused tree stand and drop it off at the school by 10 a.m. After the gym, I thought I would go back to CVS and buy some lights and candy canes for the tree. When I told the manager the tree story, he gave me a discount. One of the schools cafeteria workers returned to CVS after she got off work and bought more lights.

Friday morning was dreary and rainy, but not the tree. It sparkled. Just before the school day drew to a close, the principal drew the name of one of the school cafeteria workers, Ruby, who had no tree and did not have the excess funds to purchase one. How perfect! The tree was going to have a second happy home. I called the parent, Chip, who helped deliver the trees in the first place and asked if he could help take the tree in his truck to Rubys home. Chip dropped everything a
nd came to school to move the tree.

The new challenge was to undecorate the tree, but that was quickly accomplished thanks to volunteers plus Chip and my son. The chilly rain did not dampen our spirits, but it did make loading the tree in the pick-up a bit more messy and unpleasant. When we arrived at Rubys home, we carried the tree into the already crowded living room and tried to put it up. No luck. It was easily two to three feet too tall for the room, and so Chip cheerfully headed home to get clippers to trim the tree down so it would fit.

One of the children visiting Rubys home when we brought the tree in volunteered that perhaps her family could have the top of the tree for their home. It was just like the childrens story, Mr. Willoughbys Christmas Tree, where the tree keeps getting cut off at the top and various people and animals take their tree top cutting to be their familys Christmas tree.

When I got home, Jeffs wife got in touch with me because she said that she had heard about the trees and Carl, the single dad, and she was wondering if I knew of any other family that might need a toy. So I suggested that she donate a toy to the Black Fire Service Professionals of Alexandrias Toy Drive that was going to be held in a few days.

The next morning, my family and I delivered Christmas dinners to a couple of families as part of a St. Marys church project and then we went out to breakfast with a couple who had also delivered boxes and turkeys for Christmas dinners that morning. Over breakfast, I told them about the free Christmas trees and the single dads tree. My friends responded by saying that they were going out of town, and asking I thought Carl would like their extra food that would otherwise spoil. They also said that they might have some extra presents for children.

An hour later, they gave me two boxes of food, one box of presents that were in their birthday present/Christmas present stash complete with wrapping paper and tape, and a couple of gift cards for big box stores. She also had a gift card for Ruby. I dutifully delivered the food and gift boxes to Carl and told him that they were an anonymous donation from a family who admires what he is doing as a single dad. Furthermore, another friend I told the Christmas tree story to knew of a job that Carl could apply for and would have a great chance of getting. Carl thanked me profusely and asked me to come in and see his Christmas tree, which proudly stood in the middle of his living room. His little girl asked me if I liked her tree. It was lovely.

The whole feel-good saga started with one slightly misshapen Christmas tree that needed a home and lots of people benefited from what happened nexteven in these financially challenging times.

Please note that all names in this story have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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