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Christmas Spirit Foundation

The mission of the Christmas Spirit Foundation is to advance the Christmas Spirit for kids, families & the environment through programs & activities.

Christmas Spirit Foundation Recognizes Four 2024 SPIRIT AWARD Recipients

By: Elizabeth LeBrun

Our dedicated military members can sometimes be separated from families at annual holidays while deployed, given the average deployment period of 6-12 months – the length of which varies between branches and situations. Providing these deserving individuals, or their loved ones waiting at home, with the comfort of a Christmas tree is a small but powerful act during the holiday season.

For 19 years, the Trees for Troops (T4T) program has proceeded to grow under the direction of the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation (CSF) and the daily responsibilities of the dedicated individuals involved. Whether it be sourcing trees to donate, coordinating efforts to load or unload trees, raising funds to support the program, or the pursuit of publicity, the support of T4T volunteers is immeasurable to the program’s success.

In 2018, the Trustees formalized their recognition of individuals, companies, and organizations for superlative support of the T4T program. This honor is represented by the Christmas SPIRIT Award, which is annually bestowed upon selected recipients to thank them for their creative and extraordinary support. CSF recognized four individuals/organizations in 2024 for their contribution to the T4T program in this manner. Here are their stories:

Robert “Bob” White, owner of White’s Tree Farm in Essex Junction, Vermont, came into the Christmas tree growing business in an indirect manner in 1990.

“I purchased the property on Jericho Road with the intent to start some type of a retail agricultural business other than the dairy farm that it had been, because it had great customer access and visibility,” explains White. “I knew absolutely nothing about growing or selling Christmas trees, but a friend mentioned that I should consider it. I took a trip up to Dick Downey’s farm in Quebec, and after just driving into his farm, I made the choice to jump in with both feet and started learning.” White lightheartedly admits that he's still learning 34 years later.

White says that his farm has donated about 20-50 trees each year, with the rest being ones that he personally picks up from other farms using his own truck and gas – totaling up to 300 per year.

“The state of Vermont was kind enough to provide a large truck with a driver for me to ride in,” says White. “I just had to put gas in the old gas hog. After that, I borrowed a large trailer from a friend and hauled it around. Last year, I made a good choice and rented a big box truck from Mr. U-Haul that made life much easier, and the tree quality was also much improved.”

When asked what inspires him to do this extra part, White’s explanation reveals his good-natured demeanor. “We’re all busy (around Christmas time), especially the wholesalers,” White. “If I didn’t do it, I am not sure it would have come together…so I just did it. I assume it is the same way in most states, that someone must travel to all the farms collecting the trees. It’s a good way to get to know everybody.”

The tree collection time originally took two very long days of driving and loading. White says this was cut in half when, somewhere along the way, they found ways to move some trees in the southern part of the state without him having to visit each farm in the area.

White’s advocacy work at area meetings continues to win support and donations for CSF. He explains that this success comes from his focus on the organization’s goal to make someone at a military base feel appreciated while providing a little connection to home – wherever home is for them.

White appreciates receiving the SPIRIT award but doesn’t feel that it is really for him. Rather, it’s for all growers who have come together to donate to this effort for many years.

“I just feel lucky that I have been able to be there doing my small part to help the program come together and stay focused on the miliary families,” says White.

He says that more people should become involved in T4T. “Why not get involved? It’s not uncommon that many people have donated to causes or families in need or collected money for this program to help get donated trees to families or bases,” says White. “I am personally grateful for the service that (military members) are all providing for us!”

Bob Scott, owner of Prairie Pines, LLC tree farm in Maize, Kansas, has been a big supporter of the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation (CSF) and Tree for Troops (T4T) since his state began participating 18 years ago.

From 1996-1997, Scott served as the President of the National Christmas Tree Association, and for many years he’s served as both the program’s biannual tree pickup host and the largest grower donor of trees in the state of Kansas. Scott also does a fantastic job of getting press coverage of the pick-up events each year.

Originally planning to be a college instructor, Scott acquired his master’s degree in music before getting married, starting a family, and going to work for State Farm Insurance. It was at this point, that he “got into trees through Cecil”. Cecil Delp, who started Delp Christmas Tree Farm in 1959¬…the first of its kind in Kansas…was Scott’s inspiration to enter the Christmas tree growing business.

Scott marks 2024 as his 50th year of growing Christmas trees, and he annually donates 20-30 or them to T4T. He says that his success comes from having good people working for him at Prairie Pines.

“I’m getting old, and the most notable thing (about my business) is that I’ve had so many young workers over the years,” says Scott. “We’ve handled a lot of people. In fact my daughter, Jill, and my sons, Kip and Todd, were all tree trimmers, and now I’m handing the farm over to Kipp and his wife, Jody, in January of 2025.”

Scott inadvertently shows his dedication to the non-stop tree-growing business when he mentions that he’s actually waiting on a tree trimmer to arrive during his interview, at which time he’ll be able to go back out to the field to mow…which is “all he can do” in the current season. In addition to tree growing, Scott has enjoyed imaginative “off season” uses of his farm that include hosting Halloween activities and 26 years of chamber music concerts in his barn.

While Scott was too young to join the military during World War II, he remembers his cousins all returning from war and the stories that they told.

“We participate (in the T4T program) because military service costs people a lot, and I’ve had a few letters over the years from individuals who’ve gotten trees…and they’re all very appreciative!”

Scott says that he had never heard about the Christmas SPIRIT Award before learning of his own award. “I thought, my gosh, the military members have done more for me than I have for them,” he says. ¬¬“I think that they should receive the accolades because they do so much for all of us!”

The Mytrysak Family has been in the tree growing business for three generations, starting with the grandfather of current owner, Brandon Mytrysak, at their family farm in Brush Valley, Pennsylvania. Brandon and his wife, Stacey, then purchased a larger farm in Indiana, Pennsylvania, which they utilize today.

Stacey explains that Brandon grew up in the tree business and always enjoyed it. “I helped him when we got married and then noticed the larger farm for sale – with a gift shop included – and saw potential,” says Stacey.

The Mytrysaks became involved in Trees for Troops in 2009, and always load over 100 trees for TFT each year. Their family’s military history makes the T4T even more important to them. Both Stacey’s father, Kevin Burnosky, and Brandon’s brother-in-law, Andy, were in the Air Force; both her grandfathers were in the military; and Brandon’s Uncle, Thad, served in the Army during Vietnam. Stacey’s cousin, Chad Burnosky, was in the Pennsylvania National Guard and is currently a part of the Johnstown Generals Hockey Team (JGHT) which volunteers to help with the trees each year. The JGHT coordinates the kids’ activities at their annual Trees for Troops Day event, including the decoration of little wooden Christmas trees created by a local donor, and will help collect, tag and count each tree before loading into the FedEx Freight truck.

JGHT is comprised of members who currently serve or have served in the U.S. military who appreciate an outlet that gives veterans a safe environment to relieve stress and promote camaraderie, while providing them with community engagement opportunities.

“The JGHT is proud to have been a part of Trees for Troops over the past few years,” says Chad Burnosky, Interim Vice President. “The Mytrysak Family Tree Farm has hosted a wonderful event each year to honor our military and offer support during the holiday season. The Indiana County Trees for Troops Committee helps to advertise the event, and runs the concession stand to raise proceeds for additional tree donations.”

Stacey explains that the Mytrysaks coordinate with the local reserve unit to have troops present for their annual event. “We also have a float in both the Veterans Day Parade and It’s a Wonderful Life Parade in Indiana each year to support T4T,” she says. “The Committee also sets up the live music with different bands or singers each year, who will perform Christmas music during the day.”

James Day, Chief of Outdoor Recreation for Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation at United States Army Garrison Fort Liberty in North Carolina, was crucial to the organization and implementation of the ceremony commemorating the 300,000th tree bestowed to military members in Christ SPIRIT Foundation/Trees for Troops history in 2024.

The successful implementation of this event necessitated working with many of the different departments at Fort Liberty, including the Morale, Welfare and Recreation; the base Public Affairs Officer; the Garrison Gift Coordinator; the base Marketing Department; the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program volunteers, and Outdoor Recreation which coordinates the Trees for Troops distribution event at Smith Lake Park.

Day took care of all crucial logistics including ordering the staging, audio equipment, signage and special invites, and even went to a local print shop to pick up a foam-core sign to help CSF reduce shipping cost. He additionally coordinated with the Base Marketing office to make sure that they livestreamed the event and provide a large number of photos with copyright release.

Simply put, the ceremony would not have happened without his extra help. This type of dedicated effort for our program earned him Christmas SPIRIT Award recognition.

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