Military families to receive free trees for Christmas

Posted Nov. 21, 2010, at 8:37 p.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — They come with a bag of handmade ornaments, love from the heart and a thank-you.

Maine Christmas tree growers once again are contributing Christmas trees to the Christmas Spirit Foundation, which provides free trees to military families across the country.

Of the 17,000 trees donated to the foundation each year, 300 are from Maine growers, according to Jim Corliss of Newburgh, vice president of the foundation and president of the Maine Christmas Tree Association. Included with each Maine tree is a bag of ornaments handmade by the women of the Maine Christmas Tree Association.

The trees and ornaments from Maine, along with trees donated by growers in other states, are shipped in partnership with FedEx to about 50 military installations in the country, and a few are mailed overseas, Corliss said.

“Christmas tree growers find ourselves in a position that we can do something really meaningful, and so we feel that we’re very fortunate that way,” Corliss said Sunday. “Our customers can show their appreciation by donating.”

While the trees for the military families won’t be shipped until later this month, Christmas tree growers have been in their traditional rush mode in recent days to cut and wrap their trees for out-of-state transport to retail markets.

Most of the retail outlets want their Christmas trees by Thanksgiving, when the focus the day after quickly shifts from turkey and trimmings to the perfect Christmas tree, according to Corliss.

Corliss said 2010 was a good growing year for most Christmas tree farmers, and he expects it will be a good selling year for association members despite the sluggish economy.

“For a lot of families, a real Christmas tree is the centerpiece of the [Christmas] celebration,” said Corliss, who runs Piper Mountain Christmas Trees. Many families want a live and fragrant Christmas tree in their homes even if the poor economy means fewer presents under the tree, he said.

The economy, however, is less of a worry to Christmas tree growers than fake plastic trees mass-produced abroad, Corliss said. “That’s our principal competition,” he said. Plastic trees have come a long way since they began as a “collection of colored toilet brushes” back in the 1960s, he said.

Real trees have so many more positive attributes, according to Corliss. They are just as safe as a plastic tree, if not safer. Plastic trees will burn just as readily as real trees, but real trees won’t burn if taken care of properly and watered, he said. Plastic trees are made from chemicals, including petroleum and metal, and when discarded — about once every seven years — they will remain in a landfill. Fresh trees are turned into mulch.

Corliss said that Willard Scott, who served as the publicist for Christmas tree growers for about 20 years, once said, “You don’t buy a plastic turkey at Thanksgiving; why would you buy a plastic tree at Christmas?”

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