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Branching Out

Local Nonprofit Rolls Out Christmas Tree Swap Program

Writer / Julie Engelhardt
Photography Provided

The upcoming holiday season keeps us busy with buying gifts, prepping for company and decorating our homes. Not only do we spend hundreds on gifts for friends and loved ones, but decorations such as garlands, wreaths, stockings, ornaments and knickknacks can add up.

One of the costliest items is a Christmas tree. Many will opt for a real tree such as a Douglas or Canaan fir, or possibly a White or Scotch pine. Others decide to purchase an artificial tree. These can range in price from a modest $73 from stores like Walmart, to $580 from a seller like Birch Lane.

Although it’s great fun to have a tree in the home that you can decorate and put presents under, there are many who don’t have one.

Santa's Little Helpers

This is where Michelle T. Williams is stepping in to help. She believes that everyone should have a Christmas tree in their home.

Williams is the founder and executive director of Santa’s Little Helpers, Inc., a nonprofit organization in Louisville whose mission is to help foster children by providing pajamas, school supplies and necessary items. The organization also oversees book donations available through their Little Free Library in the Springhurst Towne Center of Louisville.

Williams is constantly seeking ways to help the community, and her newest venture is organizing a Christmas tree swap, which connects donors who no longer want their artificial tree with people who need a tree.

The idea stems from a real-life situation here in Louisville.

Santa's Little HelpersBusinessman Bryan Brown, who owns 15 Meineke Car Care Centers in the Kentuckiana region, had an artificial Christmas tree that was about eight years old, and he and his wife Carla wanted to replace it.

“My wife wanted a new tree and ours was still in fairly good shape, and she wanted to throw it away,” Brown says. “I said, ‘Wait, I bet there are people who could use a tree, so let me put this on Craigslist and see what we find out.’”

They placed the ad on a Saturday night, and when they woke up on Sunday they had seven to 10 requests for the tree.

“We had to decide who should have it,” Brown says. “We started from the first person who responded, but there were several others who didn’t have a tree as well.”

He and his wife discussed it, and they decided to reach out to the others and offer to buy them a tree.

“Out of all of them, four or five took us up on this offer,” Brown explains. “Some were reluctant. They said it sounded too good to be true. Some didn’t want to give out their address, so they asked if we could deliver it to their church. Everyone was very appreciative.”

At first Brown was going to buy trees at Walmart and deliver them, but he decided to have them them delivered through Amazon. In all, Brown spent more than $600 for the trees.   

Williams learned of Brown’s generosity through a mutual friend, and decided that the idea would fit perfectly with her organization’s mission to help others.

“There are two things I like about this idea,” Williams says. “One, there are a lot of people who can’t afford a tree, such as foster families. This is a nice way to connect with people and get them a tree. Second, it keeps the artificial trees out of the landfill. There’s nothing wrong with these trees – they’re perfectly fine trees and have all their parts and still look nice. People often just want to upgrade their trees.”

Williams created a page on the Santa’s Little Helpers, Inc. website, which has forms for people who are donating trees and those who need trees. There are certain guidelines that donors and recipients must adhere to. The first rule is that the tree must be artificial.

“We don’t want real trees that can ultimately go into a recycling bin,” Williams explains.

The second rule is that the tree must have all of its parts, and the trees must be gently used and clean.

Santa's Little Helpers“We won’t take a tree that’s missing branches or missing its stand,” Williams says. “We won’t take a tree where the needles are falling off or missing.”   

Williams accepts trees with lights that aren’t working, since strings of lights can always be purchased to drape around a tree. It’s also fine to donate trees that have artificial snow, or flocking.

The third rule is that trees must be delivered in a box or container. Santa’s Little Helpers, Inc. will issue each donor a number to place on the container, ensuring that the correct pieces are received by the right recipient.

Williams and her board members oversee all forms received by the donors and those seeking donations.

“We will communicate with each party and facilitate everything needed to ensure the swap is successful,”  she says.

Finally, the recipient may only receive one tree per calendar year.

Williams is aware that the need for trees may be larger than the number available.

“The other part of this program is that we will have a Christmas tree fund on our website,” she says. “We cannot guarantee that everyone who fills out a request for a tree will receive one. It’s all based on how many trees we receive. We hope to fund a couple of trees. Again, even if we get funding we can’t guarantee that we can give everybody who fills out a form a tree.”

Artificial Christmas trees were popularized by the Addis Brush Company, which actually made toilet bowl brushes. The trees were actually manufactured using the same equipment as the company’s toilet brushes.

Artificial trees are generally made of polyvinyl chloride, which is not recyclable. If you can’t recycle an artificial Christmas tree, then do what you can to repurpose it. Get your money’s worth by taking the branches and using them to make a garland or wreath. Crafters can take the branches, cut them down, and make a miniature tree.

Anyone can go to the Santa’s Little Helpers, Inc. site to fill out a form, but for practical purposes, the program is primarily for those who live in the Louisville and southern Indiana region. Williams also stresses that donors and recipients will need to have their own transportation to either deliver or pick up trees.

If you want to donate your tree but don’t have a program like the one through Santa’s Little Helpers, Inc., check with your local Goodwill or Salvation Army to see if they can take the tree to resell. Also, look for schools, churches, a senior group home, or other organizations that may need a tree.

If you or someone you know would like to participate in the Christmas tree swap, visit santaslittlehelpersinc.com/christmas-tree-swap.

If you want to get a head start on your Christmas shopping, Santa’s Little Helpers, Inc. will be holding its first Holiday Market on Saturday, November 13 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at John Knox Presbyterian Church, for its annual pajama fundraiser. There will be vendors selling gifts, live music, food trucks, crafts for kids, a library bookmobile, and a special visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. The church is located at 9104 Westport Road in Louisville.

Santa's Little Helpers


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