By Cyndy Thomas Klepinger –
A random act of kindness started a holiday project in Colorado Springs that continues to bring Christmas smiles to families each year.
Seven years ago, the Fein family was tired of putting together their artificial tree. It required a lot of effort to put each branch into a slot on the center metal pole before stringing the lights and adding decorations. So, the family bought a new tree.
But what to do with the old one? David Fein put an ad on Craigslist. It contained one line: “Free tree to family with children.” Almost immediately they received 20 responses from people asking for the tree and explaining why.
One person wrote: “I have six kids and no tree, we would like it if it’s still available.” Another wrote: “My husband broke his leg five weeks ago and we are really struggling. We need a tree desperately.” They selected a local family with a young baby, but these heart-felt requests struck a chord in the Fein family. They bought another tree using their own money and the $20 Michelle, David’s schoolteacher wife, received from her school principal with the suggestion that she do something special.
But this random act of kindness didn’t stop there.
After the Feins shared their story with friends and family, they received donations of not only money, but trees, decorations and time. When local media outlets shared the story, strangers wanted to help. Within a few weeks, 300 trees — both artificial and real — were donated and distributed by volunteers throughout the Colorado Springs area. David was amazed at the number of generous people the family didn’t know who jumped in to help do everything necessary to make the Christmas tree magic happen that first year. Many of the volunteers continue in their roles as “elves,” which is what volunteers are called.
Unlike many other charitable organizations, The Christmas Tree Project has no qualifications that must be met to receive a tree. Those in need simply visit Santa’s Workshop. David and his elves open the workshop between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In a donated space of about 1,500 square feet adjacent to David’s software company offices, elves create stations displaying trees, ornaments, lights and holiday décor, just like shoppers would find in a fancy holiday store. People are invited to come and select their tree and other holiday décor.
“Customers” are greeted by a concierge elf who walks around with the client to carry the selected items. David and Michelle’s 10-year-old granddaughter is the head junior elf and enjoys helping the children who visit the workshop pick out special holiday items in Santa’s Workshop. The goal is to create an experience for customers. And, when they leave, they don’t have to pay with anything more than a smile.
David said it is heartwarming to see those smiles on the recipients’ faces as they walk out with armloads of stuff to make their holidays special.
And when Santa’s Workshop closes a few days before Christmas, David and his team of elves continue to pay it forward by donating the leftover trees and decorations to a local nonprofit to help make that group’s holiday special.
TREES BRING SMILES
The Christmas Tree Project helps people like the young couple with five children and another on the way (due Christmas Day) who needed a tree and ended up with a wonderful nine-and-half-foot tree. As they left, they said that their children would not believe they had such a magnificent tree.
One request came from a single mother, who couldn’t work due to health conditions and was therefore short on money. Yet, she wanted to give her daughter a Christmas tree to decorate. Another single mother requested a tree for her 2-1/2-year-old son as she wanted to make this Christmas special for him. Then, there was the mother of a 3-year-old. The daughter was convinced she needed a tree for Santa Claus’ visit.
With each tree, a pre-addressed thank-you card is included. One returned note said, “Thank you so much! To all the people and organizations that made our Christmas tree possible. We thank you. Words cannot express how a true Christmas miracle was actually made real! Bless you all! We could not have a Christmas tree otherwise. Please continue to keep doing this great project!!!”
And, “Our 3-year-old kept asking me, ‘When will Santa bring us our Christmas tree with lights?’ as we drove past house after house — all sporting twinkling trees in the window. YOU helped my heart stop breaking. You truly get Christmas. Thank you! (Times a million.)”
Reading the responses that The Christmas Tree Project receives, the real spirit of Christmas becomes evident.
And the holiday spirit continues, sometimes as a way to say thank you with a tree. There was the car with a Purple Heart license plate driven by an injured soldier. He was happy to get a tree for his family, but he did not get a pre-addressed card so he could write a note of thanks to all the people who worked on The Christmas Tree Project. It seemed obvious that he was the one who deserved the thanks.
PAYING IT FORWARD
David shared that this project is not really about Christmas trees, but about an amazing pay-it-forward effort that started with a chain of random acts of kindness and blossomed into a local effort to help other people experience the magic of Christmas. And now, the nonprofit helps people all over the United States and, once in a while, beyond. A few years ago, a tree was donated to a school in Kibera, one of the world’s largest slums just outside Nairobi, Kenya. The request came from an American who helps build schools in the area.
The project is totally run by volunteer elves using donations of artificial and real trees, decorations and ornaments. Many local churches support the project as do tree farms and retail stores. One year, inmates at a nearby Colorado prison donated hundreds of their handmade wooden ornaments.
Most of the requests for trees come from the Front Range of Colorado. For those requests outside of the Colorado area, the elves often call a tree farm near the town where the requests originated. David said that usually within 60 seconds of describing the project, they get a commitment for a tree and, in many cases, the tree will be delivered to the requester.
David shared that every year he thinks the need is going to fade away, but it doesn’t. Last year the organization received more than 700 requests. Over the past seven years, more than 5,000 trees were given away.
A SYMBOL OF PEACE
Despite the added hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the Fein family still decorates their own 8-foot tree. It is the one they bought a few years ago to replace the tree that began The Christmas Tree Project. David and Michelle have three children and four grandchildren. That tree is the centerpiece of their home in December.
It may be surprising to learn that David, a California native, is Jewish. Yet, knowing the way he is sharing the magic of Christmas, it’s not surprising that his favorite holiday is Christmas. One of his favorite memories is of enjoying his first Christmas tree, which was also his father’s first Christmas tree. That tree was one that revolved 360 degrees and, as it turned, it showed off the tree and the cherished ornaments from every angle. For David, that tree and all of the Christmas trees he helps distribute each year have become symbols for peace and good cheer.
It truly is amazing that the need to get rid of an artificial Christmas tree created this amazing act of kindness that continues today.
“Our real message,” David said, “is to share hope and love as the world could use more of it. This is a total heart project.”
Cyndy Thomas Klepinger is a Denver freelance writer, who has again become a believer in the magic of Christmas.