Thanksgiving may still be two weeks away, but after a lot of effort in Poland, a Christmas project is done and on its long journey to Kuwait. Over the weekend, 100 Christmas trees from around Ohio were packaged with handmade ornaments to begin a monthlong journey to military bases overseas. The project is part of Operation Evergreen.
The project takes place each year around early to mid-November. The Ohio Christmas Tree Growers Association's members donate Christmas trees to send to overseas military bases. The trees are packaged along with homemade ornaments made by local Girl Scouts and students.
"There is a national program to provide trees for troops in military bases in the states," said Mary Jan Perdulla, owner of Pioneer Tree Farm on Center Road in Poland Township. "The Ohio program is the one that ships trees overseas to troops serving around Kuwait and Afghanistan."
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Julia Ranno, Marisa Davanzo, Juliana Glass, and Gabriella Calderon Pull their felled tree out of the orchard at Pioneer Tree Farm in Poland so it can be wrapped and prepared for shipment to troops serving around Kuwait and Afghanistan during Christmas. The girls were part of a group from Troops 80168, 80322 and 80183.
She said Pioneer Tree Farm has been involved in the program since 1996. Pioneer is one of 30 Ohio tree farms that donate trees. One year, Perdulla said, there were 200 trees sent, but more recent years have seen the program scale back to average around 100.
This year, Pioneer Tree Farm added 12 trees, which were taken down on Saturday with the efforts of Girl Scouts from Troops 80168, 80322 and 80183 along with local veteran volunteers. The girls learned how to cut a tree and wrap it for shipment. Perdulla said the trees that are shipped are not the usual full trees, but are narrower and around 5-6 feet in height. These are requirements that have to be met to be able to ship the trees overseas.
Another part of the program is shipping costs. Perdulla said it costs roughly $160 per tree to send a tree.
"The Ohio Association of Tree Growers had to come up with $16,000," Perdulla said. "Without that amount, the program would have been cancelled."
Locally, Perdulla said Bolt Construction of Poland, came through with a $5,000 donation that will ensure service men and women will be seeing an Ohio tree this year. She also mentioned the Poland Seminary High School home economics class got involved and raised another $320 and further monetary donations came from students at Leonard Kirtz School in Austintown.
"We had the funds secured a week ago and we have met our goal," Perdulla said.
That left only one additional detail -- tree decorations. Each tree that is wrapped for shipment also can include a package of tree ornaments. As in past years, that was not a problem and in Poland, a host of Girl Scout troops, the Family Career and Community Leaders of America at Poland High School, and the Holy Family Acts of Random Kindness after-school program put their efforts into making the decorations to send.
At Holy Family, Girl Scout Troop 157 met in the school cafeteria to design and decorate Christmas ornaments with some help from FCCLA members Cara Palusak and Erin Chapman from the high school.
"The girls [Cara and Erin] shopped for various craft items at Hobby Lobby and helped the Girl Scouts to successfully decorate one large Christmas tree," said Tina Kali from Holy Family School.
Besides the Girl Scouts at Holy Family, the ARK group consisting of sixth- and seventh-grade girls, also got involved during their after-school sessions. According to Melinda Miller, the ARK girls made more than 300 ornaments for Operation Evergreen.
"The girls also included Christmas cards and small flags in each bag of ornaments," Miller said. "They welcomed the chance to take part. They do monthly service projects such as visiting local nursing homes, singing Christmas carols at the local soup kitchen during the holidays, making treat bags for children at Akron Children's hospital, making and donating baby blankets to the St. Elizabeth NICU, collecting food and other items for Second Harvest Food Bank, and now they can add making ornaments for Operation Evergreen. The girls had a blast making the ornaments."
The ornaments were separated and bagged on Saturday. The trees were cut, tied and bagged along with the ornament package and each of the 12 trees headed off to one central location in Ohio where they will be joined with the other Ohio trees. From that location, the trees will be shipped to Arcent (Army Central) in Kuwait. Perdulla said it is a large safe military base that serves as the central location for other bases around Kuwait and Afghanistan. From that main base, the trees will be shipped out to 100 bases that have a rest and rec center. The accompanying ornaments and cards will bring a little Christmas cheer to those serving during December.
"I am thankful for the support of the community," Perdulla said. "For our service men and women, this is their little touch of home and Christmas. Just one tree can impact hundreds of soldiers."