Trees for Troops Spreads Christmas Cheer from Ashe to Virginia, Texas bases – BY the Ashe Mountain Times

By Alan Wooten

Published November 30, 2011 for Ashe Mountain Times


When the Trees for Troops program came to Ashe County in 2005, local farmer Cline Church wasn’t sure how long it would last.

“We thought in two or three years, it would fizzle out,” Church said with a big smile. “But here we are.”

As he moved about the indoor storage facility Tuesday along U.S. 221 at Cline Church Nursery, his smile was infectious. The program is strong and shows no signs of fizzling. Volunteers were on hand with sweets and hot drinks, to load trucks, and donated trees from farmers in Ashe, Alleghany and Watauga counties arrived intermittently.

Two FedEx tractor-trailers were filled with 982 donated Christmas trees. The Ashe County High Junior ROTC supplied 15 cadets to help load the trailers, and many of the trees carried cards with colorful designs and heartfelt messages from students at Ashe County elementary schools.

As Caroline Edwards, a part of the JROTC volunteer group, attached the elementary school students’ cards to the trees, she took a moment to explain why she enjoyed helping.

“It’s really great to know we can do something for the troops because they do so much for us,” Edwards said.

Edwards also helped last year. She has plans for a career in the military, possibly in the Air Force. She is considering the ROTC route to go to either Virginia Tech or N.C. State. Quite possibly, one year she may well be on the receiving end.

“This year, we’re celebrating our 100,000th tree to the program,” said Jennifer Greene, executive director of the N.C. Christmas Tree Association. “We’ve had more than 84,000 trees in the first (six) years of the program.”

Trees loaded in Ashe County were destined for Joint Expeditionary Base-Fort Story, located on the lower Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean in southeastern Virginia, and Fort Bliss, an Army base adjacent to El Paso, Texas, that spreads into New Mexico.

Another truck was scheduled to be loaded in Avery County on Wednesday, with about 300-plus trees expected to go to Camp Lejeune.

“North Carolina donates over 1,000 trees annually,” Greene said. “It would not be possible without FedEx, and they do it pretty much at no cost.”

The Trees for Troops program is a non-profit subsidiary of the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation. Each year, about 17,000 trees are delivered to more than 60 military bases in the U.S. and overseas.

Lt. Col. (ret.) John Marsh, a veteran of 20 years with the Army, is the Senior Army Instructor at Ashe County High. He said he was glad to have students involved since the inception of the program. The cadets also regularly participate in projects such as highway clean-ups, military funerals, Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies, and parades.

“It’s a great deal,” Marsh said. “When I was on active duty, we didn’t have anything like this. When I was in Greece, we were very happy to get one. It’s a very big deal for their morale.”

Church doesn’t go with the trees when they are delivered, but he does recall his visit to Fort Bragg with a load of trees.

“It was just a wonderful sight to see the smiles on their faces,” Church said. “It’s great to be a part of an industry like this where something like this can happen. It’s a great cause.”