GOBLES, Mich. — Charles Konneck knows the holidays can be a hard time for people, especially for military families. He served in the army years ago and bounced around the country with his wife and two kids, calling a new place ‘home’ once every few years.
“Some of the lower-enlisted young soldiers in the military have families,” said Konneck at Wahmhoff Farms. “This is neat for them to get a Christmas tree, a free Christmas tree, and makes their Christmas that much better.”
Konneck was among over 100 volunteers — firefighters, military groups, veterans, local residents — who loaded up FedEx trucks with 600 bundled Christmas trees for military families in Fort Benning, Georgia. They spent over an hour in the drizzling rain Monday morning carrying trees with both arms to a conveyor belt that went into giant, spacious trucks.
“It makes me feel good that we can do this for our soldiers and make them happy,” said Konneck about the Trees for Troops event. “Put a smile on some little kid's face, some military brat, you know.”
Event coordinator Marsha Gray said she, and the Christmas tree industry, shared the same sentiment. Thirteen years ago, the National Christmas Tree Association thought of ways to encourage military families during the holidays. They came up with the idea to donate real trees to them and FedEx stepped in to make the deliveries. Since then, Trees for Troops and the association have donated over 16,000 trees annually to families around the world.
“About two or three years into the project the Wahmhoffs said ‘We’d love to host the loading event’ and they have been doing it ever since,” said Gray. “They’ve had a wonderful turn out, obviously with all the the volunteers.”
Gray said many of the trees that are shipped come from 12 farms in Michigan. The local growers bring them by truck to Wahmhoffs annually, already bundled, and the volunteers put them on the trucks.
“Some of the soldiers are from Michigan,” said Konneck about the troops stationed at Fort Benning. “I think this really puts a smile on their face and makes them feel like home, you know. Home is thinking about them and that’s really important to our soldiers.”
Gray said this year's event was a success because of everyone's participation. From the growers to the volunteers to the people who donate money online to keep the program going, she thanked them all. But said it's nothing compared to what America's servicemen and women do.
“They’ve given up an awful lot during the holidays, if someone's serving overseas,” said Gray. “We just want them to know that we remember them. We think about them this time of year.”