By RALPH ELLIS The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Published on: 11/22/07
Gordon Hunter, owner of a Christmas tree farm in north Fulton County, is donating trees to families on Georgia military bases as an act of patriotic appreciation.
"These are families that are giving up a lot," said Hunter, who flew Navy fighters during the Vietnam War. "This is a way for people to open up and say thank you."
Hunter and other tree farmers in Georgia sent about 275 trees to military families last year through the Trees for Troops program.Many growers have a personal connection to the military.
For instance, Esther and Earl Worthington, owners of a tree farm in Lovejoy, suffered a personal loss when their grandson, 19-year-old Robert Adrian Worthington of Jackson, was killed May 22 in a bomb blast in Iraq."We're particularly interested this year," Esther Worthington said.
Trees for Troops started in 2005 and is run by the Christmas Spirit Foundation, the charitable branch of the National Christmas Tree Association. Nationally, Trees for Troops shipped 4,300 trees to five bases in 2005 and about 12,000 trees to 25 bases last year.
This year, customers can participate. Tree shoppers who visit Hunter and Worthington farms can buy trees that Fed Ex will ship for free to military bases. Buyers can write a personal message on stationery to be attached to the tree. Previously, only growers and dealers donated trees.
Atlanta locations of Big John's Christmas Trees are selling trees for military families.
Big John's let customers buy trees for the troops last year and shipped about 325 trees to military bases, said Big John's employee Bobbi Crisp. "This year we're hoping for a lot more," Crisp said.
Other Georgia tree farmers will donate trees and drop them off for pickup at the Hunter and Worthington farms as well as a farm in Tifton. Fed Ex will ship the trees for free to the bases.
Hunter will sell 6- to 7-foot trees for $35 to $50. Worthington said prices will range from $25 to $150. Big John's will sell trees for $25 each, Crisp said.
Most of the donated Georgia trees will go to Georgia bases, said Greg Smith, a Nicholson tree farmer who runs the Trees for Troops program for the Georgia Christmas Tree Association. He, too, has a personal interest in Trees for Troops."My dad was a veteran who passed away about three years ago, and I'm doing this in his honor," Smith said.
Troops in the Middle East war zones will receive trees shipped from Ohio and Indiana.
Customers are urged to purchase trees early. Big John's will sell trees for troops through Dec. 2. Trees will be shipped from the Worthington farm Dec. 4 and from the Hunter farm Dec. 10.