This year’s annual Trees for Troops event looked and operated differently from last year, but the outcome was the same: dozens of local military families received a tree and left with a smile.
Fort Gordon was one of 79 military installations to receive a mass delivery of live trees courtesy of Trees for Troops, a program of the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation in partnership with FedEx. Trees for Troops provides free, farm-grown Christmas trees to service members and their families in all branches of the military – for free – through generous donations, sponsorships, grants and volunteers around the world.
Normally Fort Gordon hosts the event in conjunction with the Christmas Festival on Barton Field. But the festival was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and instead, families filed through the Command Support Center parking lot on Dec. 5.
Bernadette White, Army Community Service specialist, said that with everything going on surrounding the pandemic, she was happy to help foster a sense of Christmas spirit through Trees for Troops.
“We’ve all been through a lot this year, and everyone’s looking for a sense of normalcy, so hopefully we’ll be able to provide a little of that by giving out the trees this year,” White said.
Keeping safety a top priority, White said that one of the goals of the tree distribution was “to have as little contact as possible.” The only way to accomplish that goal would be through the help of volunteers, so ACS sent requests for volunteers to units and organizations across Fort Gordon. They did not disappoint.
“We had more volunteers than we probably have ever had, and that, to me, is a testament to the people in the community really wanting to help foster that spirit of Christmas,” White said. “At last count, we had over 100 volunteers.”
The day started early with unloading trees from a FedEx truck then organizing them in such a way that would make it simple to retrieve, carry, and load trees onto vehicles. Volunteers were also needed to direct traffic, check ID cards, cut twine used for securing trees on vehicles, and a host of other duties.
One of those volunteers, 1st Sgt. Scott Schumacher, said Trees for Troops is a “great way to give back” to fellow service members. Schumacher, of Company A, Eisenhower Army Medical Center, was joined by several others who learned about the opportunity through their involvement with the Sergeant Audi Murphy Club.
“We just wanted to come out and do as much as we could,” he said. “It makes you feel like the Army is always there and is going to take care of you … whether it’s handing out Christmas trees, whether it’s giving turkeys for Thanksgiving, whatever it is, they’re going to help you in some way, shape or form.”
Staff Sgt. Cheryl Skabialka, a volunteer with the Senior Leader Course, said she hoped that she was able to help brighten the days of fellow military families by playing a part in the distribution.
“Despite current circumstances, and with people not having to get out of their cars, I haven’t seen anybody driving away with less than a smile on their face,” Skabialka said.
Pamela Rachal, ACS specialist, deemed the event “a huge success” that she won’t soon forget.
“That quick assembly line was something to behold. I don't think I have ever seen trees downloaded off trucks so fast,” Rachal said. “The coordination, the collaboration, and the implementation of everyone participating made this event one to remember.”
A total of 275 trees were distributed. Active-duty E1 through E5 had priority during the first hour of distribution. All other military ID cardholders were welcome to a tree during the second (final) hour.