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Christmas Tree Programs Brighten Holidays for Military Families

By Sharon Foster
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2008 – A Christmas tree farm in Whitehouse, Ohio, is celebrating the holiday season by giving away 100 Christmas trees to military families.

“We've been giving trees to military families since the war started,” Duke Wheeler, owner of Whitehouse Christmas Tree Farm, said. “We feel it's important to let these families know that we appreciate their sacrifices. … We're grateful for all that they do.”

The tree farm is giving away 7-foot Christmas trees through Dec. 20 to military families who have a servicemember overseas or a servicemember who recently returned from duty. Family members can cut down their own tree at the farm or have it cut down while they wait.

Wheeler also participated in the annual “Trees for Troops” weekend, which took place Dec. 5 to 7. For each Christmas tree bought at participating Christmas tree farms, another tree was donated to a military family.

“Trees for Troops,” a Christmas Spirit Foundation and FedEx Corp. program, has delivered more than 34,000 real Christmas trees to military families since it began in 2005. The program has grown from about 400 Christmas tree farms and retailers participating to more than 850. Nearly 17,000 families at more than 40 military bases received a Christmas tree in 2007 through this program.

As a member of the Ohio Christmas Tree Association, Whitehouse Christmas Tree Farm also takes part in “Operation Evergreen,” a 12-year-old program that allows American servicemembers to celebrate Christmas with a live Ohio tree.

For the program, trees are cut and collected from several Christmas tree farms around Veterans Day, and transported by the growers to the Ohio Department of Agriculture in Reynoldsburg to be inspected, packed into boxes and put on a FedEx truck for overseas shipment.

“This year alone, with 20 growers, we had 30 high school and middle school students come and help us pack 325 trees,” Amy Galehouse, Operation Evergreen coordinator for OCTA, said.

Galehouse said the trees were shipped out Nov. 12 and arrived in Kuwait on Nov. 18. “It usually takes two weeks for the trees to get all the way to Afghanistan,” she said. “Seventy-five went into Iraq, 100 into Kuwait and 150 into Afghanistan.”

Wheeler says he is happy to be a part of all three programs that reach out to servicemembers and their families during the holidays.

“This is just a small token, a simple ‘thank you,’” Wheeler said.

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