By David Poe, USAG Fort Bliss Public Affairs:
(El Paso, Texas, Dec. 14, 2017)
A pine tree forest in the desert is a tall order, but anything is possible during the holidays.
Thanks to the Troops for Trees program, supported by FedEx, Fort Bliss troops and families received approximately 330 Douglas Fir Christmas trees during a distribution and canned food drive at Biggs Park here, Monday.
In 2005, the National Christmas Tree Association started the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. The foundation developed plans for a national Trees for Troops program that could unify the individual programs of tree growers and state Christmas tree associations. Army Community Service, with help from volunteers from the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program and Fort Bliss FMWR, headed the distribution effort as they have since the program started.
“It’s a huge morale builder for the Soldiers and their families,” said Cher Poehlein, an ACS program manager. The trees came with holiday cards from school kids that thanked Soldiers for their service.
In addition, those receiving trees were able to bring canned food items to benefit the Junior Enlisted Family Center’s food bank at the Armed Services YMCA here.
While the distribution may be rooted in the holiday spirit, Poehlein said the economic benefit of the gifted trees wasn’t lost on her and she was glad that the savings could be passed on to some junior troops and their families.
“When it’s all said and done, these trees would be anywhere between $45 and $75,” she said. “Touching 330 families – that’s a lot of money.”
Priority went to the families of deployed troops, fallen troops and troops and families who are of the E-5 paygrade and below. Spc. Brittany Williams, the Fort Bliss BOSS vice president and a Fort Bliss Garrison Soldier, said she noticed many of her fellow Soldier-volunteers fell within the similar paygrade. Almost a dozen BOSS troops came out to Biggs Park for the distribution.
“They love doing this kind of stuff,” Williams said of her fellow BOSS Soldiers. “They like coming out and getting involved. We’re humbled to be out here connecting families with Christmas trees. I’ve seen a lot of families’ faces light up.”
Poehlein said she recognized that the distribution also was a great way for volunteers like Williams to get to know their community by engaging with people firsthand.
“(BOSS Soldiers) come to Bliss from all over without families, so this is an excellent way for them to give back to others,” she said, “and for Army Community Service, this is what we do; we help families and Soldiers.”
She also credited the Biggs Park staff who received the two tractor trailers’ worth of trees from courier FedEx and secured them until the distribution. Thirty trees were shared with troops and families at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., as well.
A pine tree forest in the desert may be a tall order, but Poehlein said with selfless volunteers and a generous public, maybe anything is possible.
“One of the holiday cards brought a tear to my eye,” said Poehlein. “It said, ‘If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t be free.’ It’s definitely heartwarming.”
For more details on the Trees for Troops program, visit www.TreesForTroops.org.