By Col. Richard Goldenberg, New York National GuardNovember 27, 2018
BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. - New York National Guard Airmen and Soldiers volunteered their time to fill up a delivery truck with 130 donated Christmas trees bound for military families at the Ellms Family Farm , Nov. 26.
The effort is part of Trees for Troops, a national program of the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation. The charitable organization provides farm-grown Christmas Trees to military members and their families across all branches of the military.
The event marks 14 years of support of New York National Guard members volunteering their time to assist in the loading of trees destined for fellow service members and their families around the country and around the world.
Among the volunteers were members of the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing, based at nearby Scotia, N.Y. The wing deploys personnel each year to Antarctica for Operation Deep Freeze (ODF) and the wing's support to the National Science Foundation.
The group included Senior Master Sgt. Gary Fiorillo, Master Sgt. Justin Krazinski and Staff Sgt. Shannon Schiller, all new volunteers to the effort, alongside Master Sgt. Kyle Defeo, a returning veteran from the wing Security Forces Squadron who has assisted Trees for Troops for the past six years.
"I received one of the trees in 2007 and it was a really nice touch," Defeo said.
Rotations of Airmen for Operation Deep Freeze means members will always spend time supporting the mission in Antarctica every holiday season, Schiller said.
Volunteering to load trees reminds Airmen of their local connections back home for the holidays, said Fiorillo, a first sergeant with the wing operations group.
"Last year we were both employed down in ODF for Christmas and we know how important it is for Christmas and holidays around the world," Fiorillo said. "So definitely, great to come out and help out when we're home absolutely."
More than a dozen local area tree farms donated the trees at Ellms Tree Farm each year. Delivery is provided by FedEx. This year, the Christmas Trees from upstate New York are bound for Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia, said Chip Ellms, coordinator for the event.
Troops and families receiving the donated trees will also receive hand-made decorations and ornaments, donated by Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Schools, said Sally Ellms, who founded Ellms Tree Farm with her husband Chip 34 years ago.
The family business also includes children Garth, Ashley DiPaola and Sasha Presseisen, who all assisted in the tree collection.
One of the most fulfilling parts of the loading of Christmas Trees is welcoming back volunteers from past years, Garth Ellms said.
"We get to meet folks here every year that come back on this day and maybe they've been overseas," Ellms said. "The best part is they bring a picture and you'll see a green tree in the middle of the desert. It just really hits home for them, we like to hear those stories. That's why we continue to do it."
The Trees for Troops program launched in 2005, and with the help of FedEx Corp., delivered more than 4,300 Christmas Trees to five U.S. military bases. Since the effort began, more than 200,000 trees have been delivered to military members and their families worldwide.
Having veterans help with Trees for Troops each years adds even more meaning to their effort, Garth Ellms said.
"They're used to putting other people first and they're here once again putting people first and loading those trees on and making sure that other service men and women are taking advantage of that," he said.
For first-year volunteer Schiller, it was fun to contribute to the effort, she said.
"Well, it's great to give back to the community," she said. "We enjoy doing that so when we are home, we like to do that."