|By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — Operation Evergreen is the Ohio Christmas Tree Assoc.’s (OCTA) program for sending Christmas trees to troops overseas, said Mike Pullins, OCTA’s acting executive director.
On Nov. 15, 170 trees were inspected and packed by volunteers at the ODA building. The trees were flown into Qatar, Afghanistan, Kuwait and to army posts in the United States.
“About 10 years ago, OCTA began working with the military to send donated Christmas trees from Ohio to our servicemen at their posts overseas, and it was very well received,” Pullins said. “The program has grown every year, and now this past year it went national with the National Christmas Tree Assoc. and FedEx picking up on the Ohio project.”
The NCTA used Operation Evergreen as a model for the Trees for Troops, launched this year. They will deliver more than 3,000 Christmas trees to military families.
“They delivered Christmas trees to more of the posts overseas and to many of the bases here in the United States where, even though they’re in the United States, the servicemen are still away from their families,” Pullins said.
OCTA member Amy Galehouse, Galehouse Christmas Trees in Doylestown, who has been a moving force behind the project since 1999, said that this was the first year Operation Evergreen had to use commercial shipping.
The cost for shipping trees overseas is anywhere from $300 to $1,100 per tree. FedEx has its own delivery system and flies into Qatar on a regular basis, so they volunteered to take the trees as part of a cargo hold, Galehouse said.
And shipping the trees overseas can get complicated.
Some countries have restrictions, which will not allow Christian material to go through. It has to be driven around the country.
OCTA member Michael Wertz arranged to have cardboard boxes donated for shipping the trees.
The boxes contained more than trees. In the late 1990s several church and school groups began buying or making ornaments to ship with the trees. The possibilities for the school groups were endless, Galehouse said.
Students learned about holiday traditions, making and giving gifts, patriotism, world history, current events, environmental choices, media relations, organization, participation with local military units and bases.
“I’ve seen them include paper chain ornaments, hand-painted ceramics, high school classes burn CDs, and they send essays,” Galehouse said.
The growers and the children who send ornaments put their e-mail addresses on every tree and ornament. Most people in the military have access to e-mail, Galehouse said. They often reply to the senders. Here are a couple of replies:
“On behalf of the 2 MEF Marines stationed at Camp Victory, Kuwait, I’d like to say thank you. My name is Lance Cpl Blackwell. We had so much fun decorating the lovely tree you sent us. This is a hard time of year to be out here away from friends and family, and the tree and decorations you sent us put a smile on our faces and warmth in our hearts!”
Raymond Rippel, stationed in Kosovo, said, “It is very nice to hear that people back in the United States are thinking about us during the holidays. Many of us have children about your age that we really miss, and that are going to be opening their presents without either Dad or Mom because they are far away. Thanks to you, though, we are going to feel a little less lonely.”
Pullins summed it up, “This project has been so well received by the servicemen, the media and the public. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
For more information and photos visit www.operationevergreen.com
Published in the December 14, 2005 issue of Farm World.