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Free Christmas trees bring joy

CENTRAL POINT — While a $5 Christmas tree seems like the best bargain in town, it’s not quite so great a deal when a reliable vehicle and gas money are just a few of the many hurdles keeping a local family from venturing into the woods to cut down their own.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneTom and Melissa Kerly along with firefighters Alex Cummings and Javier Lopez move christmas trees they cut to give away.

Trail resident Cyndi Soffner remembers all too well a holiday season as a single mom, down on her luck and without two nickels to rub together. The holidays are always a little more expensive for everyone, with added expenses, but Soffner said there were times the electricity would get shut off when money was in short supply.

One year, she remembers rolling pennies before her family could visit the local tree lot.

“The Christmas tree is my favorite part of the holidays, even when things have been pretty tight, I’ve always loved being able to pick out my Christmas tree. This one year, a long time ago, I took my kids and we had literally rolled up pennies to go buy our tree,” she said.

“We had started the tradition of going to pick out a live Christmas tree and we weren’t going to miss out. We showed up with a bucket of rolled pennies and they ended up just giving me the tree.”

Nearly two decades later, Soffner said a social media ad that popped up on her screen caused her to reminisce about the gesture of kindness.

Central Point fireman Tom Kerley posted a photo on Facebook Marketplace with an impressive haul of Christmas trees. Free to anyone in need.

Kerley said his family, in 2019, headed into the woods to grab their own tree with their $5 Forest Service Christmas tree permit in hand.

With the permit allowing up to five trees, Kerley and his wife, Melissa, thought “why not grab the five-tree limit?”

They recruited tree-hunting friends and his fellow firemen at Fire District No. 3 to do the same and they posted online to see who might be unable to afford a Christmas tree.

“I had been talking to a buddy two years ago who had done something similar, and we were talking about how our lives are so blessed, not that we don’t all see our fair share of hardship, but we feel pretty fortunate. My biggest problem is always my biggest problem, but there are a lot of people who have bigger problems than I can imagine,” he said.

“Me and my friend, we both have kids, wanted to give our kids a little bit of perspective. We just went up that year and thought we’d grab the extra trees and get a handful of people to do the same thing.”

The first year, Kerley posted on social media taking requests for trees.

He added, “We had 100 requests in three hours. When you’re expecting 10 and you get 100, it becomes kind of a logistical feat. This year we said, ‘OK, let’s cut the trees and then post the ad when we know how many we have.’”

Add in some Christmas cheer, a stash of donated ornaments on site and the option to have the tree delivered — instant holiday cheer, said Kerley.

Far removed from her days as a penny-rolling single mom, Soffner said the gesture by Kerley, and her chance to pick up a couple trees for two struggling young families, made her own holidays brighter.

“I remember being so touched by the help that I got that year. When I saw he posted that his family was doing that, it really made me smile. I would’ve bought the trees (for the two families) myself if I had to, but this was a way to help even more,” she said.

“I know how it feels to be on the other side, and it feels really good to have someone help you out — and even better to be on the other side and paying it all forward. Better to give than receive.”

Melissa Kerley said her family enjoy the annual tree gifting project and love seeing the smile on the faces of those both giving and receiving trees.

When you think about it, a $5 tree isn’t just a $5 tree. It’s a lot to think about when you’re worrying about groceries. A lot of peoples’ lives have been turned upside down between the fires and COVID. We always get at least one story that really tugs on our hearts and makes us want to do this again the next year,” she said.

“It’s a lot of fun for us, too. Selfishly it feels good to spend the day in the sunshine and do something pretty cool. Who doesn’t want to bring Christmas cheer, in the simplest way possible, into someone’s home? We aren’t good singers, otherwise we would totally sing instead!”

Tom Kerley said it was “a pretty good deal. Five dollars to put a smile on somebody’s face?” he said.

“I like to make it that we’re just trying to be super selfless, but the benefit to me is my family gets perspective and we all spent a day in the shadow of Mount McLoughlin cutting trees with a group of friends and co-workers. It’s money well spent all the way around.”

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.