When I was a kid, my parents and I would travel to the mountains of NC to cut down our Christmas tree. The process became as important as the holiday itself: travel an hour and a half to the tree farm, vehicle after vehicle plowing along, as my aunt and uncle, family friends and other relatives would come and make a day of it. Afterward, we’d stop for dinner, and later in the evening, an inevitable amount of bickering began while Dad hoisted the fir, and Mom delegated, “A little more to the left … now the right…”
Decorating it came with just as much careful scrutiny. The year we went “all white” rather than color lights sent my young heart into a hole of black.
“White’s so boring!” I protested with a pout.
Later on in the week, I heard my mother on the phone with my aunt. “Carolyn, I think I might have to send Shea to therapy over changing the lights on the Christmas tree.”
Once I moved to college, traditions evolved: Mom and Dad invested in a fake tree. “It saves time and money!” they said.
“But it’s fake!” I retorted. “It feels like plastic, and it doesn’t even smell like Christmas!”
“But I have a pine-scented candle right here, Shea. Are we gonna have to send you to therapy over this?”
My mom always loved a psychological threat. Usually, one of her chocolate-peanut-butter balls would shut me up as satisfyingly.
As I headed out into my own world of Christmas traditions, living on the coast wouldn’t allow a quick trip to the mountains to cut down the tree. So, I opted for the next best thing: purchasing one from Winter Park Optimist at Hugh MacRae Park. Bought from a farm in Fleetwood, NC, the lot houses Frasier Firs in the mounds. The woodsy pine scent takes over the senses in a split second upon pulling into the park. Good will becomes imminent, especially when considering the monies donated from every purchase help children grow into confident, well-adjusted and driven adults.
The Optimist International consists of 2,900 optimist clubs around the world, including Winter Park. The organization has a motto that pretty much sums up their entire mission: “Optimists—bringing out the best in kids.”
Winter Park Optimist works with youth in all realms, from the Boys and Girls Home of Lake Waccamaw, to helping the fight against childhood cancer, to funding baseball and softball programs and so much more. As a nonprofit, they’re funded through donations and drives, their biggest of the year being the annual Christmas tree sale.
“We usually serve 1,000 or so people in our programs and charity through the fund-raiser,” Chuck Kuerbler, Winter Park treasurer, says. Monies get distributed in chunks to essay contests, scholarships, oratorical contests, and a Wilmington project and community need.
In 2009 the club sold trees to 1,300 buyers. Though they expect this year to be a bit down in sales because of the economy, they’re also passing on savings to the consumer. “We are offering more moderate price points,” Kuebler says, also noting how robust and full the pines are for the cost. Prices are $45 and up, depending on the size and height.
Still, the real deal comes from knowing the dollars spent go toward a child’s progression and betterment in life. The tree lot is open daily at 9 a.m. through the 19th of December. They’ll have a Christmas cookout on the 12th at 3 p.m.
Choosing the perfect tree never seemed easier thanks to Winter Park’s 25th annual fund-raiser, and helping children succeed makes it therapy all its own.
Mom will be proud.