More than 100 live Christmas trees are on their way to military bases overseas after a number of Ohio growers donated trees and hundreds of volunteers packed handmade ornaments during Operation Evergreen.
The trees were inspected at the Ohio Department of Agriculture headquarters in Reynoldsburg Nov. 13 before being shipped.
The pine scent of a blue spruce, white pine or Fraser fir sends hundreds of people out to tree farms all over Ohio each year, but soldiers stationed overseas rarely get a chance to enjoy that aroma, said Amy Galehouse, coordinator of Operation Evergreen and owner of Galehouse Tree Farms in Doylestown, Ohio.
"Our family lived overseas a long time ago and we know it is hard to be away from family at Christmas, so we wanted to send troops some Christmas cheer from home," she said.
Sponsored by the Ohio Christmas Tree Association, in partnership with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Operation Evergreen has sent trees to troops stationed overseas since 1995.
Galehouse said 29 trees were sent the first year, but last year, the program sent 320 trees.
"The volume changes with the overseas command," she said. "We send them as a block donation, then military personnel distribute the trees among the units."
So how do you get a tree that's nearly 6 feet high and 4 feet wide tree into a shipping box?
"We usually send white pine or fir or some other variety that compresses well," Galehouse said. "We have automatic balers that can compress the tree to 12 inches across. We pack handmade ornaments around the trees, made by scout troops, schools and church groups."
She said 60 students from various schools in Doylestown, Granville, Akron, Bucyrus, Carroll and other communities helped to pack the ornaments into plastic bags.
"Some of the students also made cards and banners for the troops," she said. "The kids often put their school email addresses on the cards and usually get responses back from the troops -- and sometimes veterans come back and visit the schools."
Shipping the trees is not inexpensive, however. Shipping costs this year through UPS came to $130 per tree, or $14,600.
Galehouse said the organization has already collected a little more than half that through donations from area businesses and other organizations, but anyone else who wants to contribute may contact her at email@example.com.
She said Ohio's drought this year affected thousands of seedlings planted by tree farmers.
"We had to replant almost everything we planted last year," she said.
Seedlings run from 60 cents each to $3 each.
"We are one of the bigger tree farms, so we plant anywhere from 7,000 to 14,000 trees, but most growers plant in the 500 to 3,000 range," Galehouse said.
She said besides the extra expense for replanting, growers will be impacted by this year's drought 10 years from now, when the trees were supposed to be mature enough to sell.
"We usually have to try to counteract that loss by planting bigger seedlings, but that also costs more," she said.
She said the military absorbed shipping costs for Operation Evergreen until the end of 2004, when it was decided all donations had to be shipped by a commercial carrier. In 2005, FedEx and the Christmas Spirit Foundation included Operation Evergreen donations in their Trees for Troops shipping. This year, though, that offer came with stipulations: Shipping would be covered only if the organization decided to "lose" the name Operation Evergreen and consent to be assimilated into the Trees for Troops program.
Galehouse said the Ohio Christmas Trees Association's board of directors decided it would rather be a standalone program.
"The troops who receive the trees overseas very much appreciate the touch of home our Christmas trees provide," she said.
"We know it is hard to be away from family at Christmas, so we wanted to send troops some Christmas cheer from home."
-- AMY GALEHOUSE
Operation Evergreen coordinator