BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. – More than 20 volunteers from the New York Army and Air National Guard joined area veterans and fellow service members at Ellms Tree Farm to load 125 Christmas trees in support of the national Trees for Troops charitable effort on Nov. 30.
This marks 16 years of military members volunteering their time to assist in loading trees destined for fellow service members and their families around the country and around the world.
"We're doing our 16th year for our Trees for Troops and it continues strong," said tree farmer Chip Ellms, who noted that the goal to provide Christmas spirit to military families through Christmas trees is a significant one in a year of COVID-19.
The annual program will see more than 14,500 trees delivered this year to 79 U.S. military bases around the country and around the globe.
The trees collected at Ellms Tree Farm came from more than a dozen regional farms, Ellms said, and the support of the military members and veterans makes the shipment even more meaningful for him.
Volunteers from the National Guard said their effort supports fellow Soldiers and Airmen serving overseas.
Members of the Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing in Scotia, New York, for example, deploy each holiday season to support Operation Deep Freeze, the National Science Foundation support for Antarctica research.
Airman 1st Class Gabriella Bucci from the 109th Airlift Wing volunteered to load trees for her first time.
Growing up in a military family, Bucci said, she knew she had to participate in paying it forward.
"My entire family is military, so I've got to keep it going," she said.
National Guard Soldiers and Airmen were joined by Sailors from the local Navy Nuclear Power Training Unit in Ballston Spa, New York and local veterans and members of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA).
Trees also included ornaments made by students of the local Burnt Hills - Ballston Lake schools.
The Trees for Troops program first launched in 2005, with the help of FedEx Corp.
Each year, thousands of trees are donated by Christmas tree growers and consumers. FedEx and its team members generously provide shipping to bases in the U.S. and overseas.
Participating in the group effort for a program the benefits other military families made volunteering worthwhile, Bucci said.
"It felt good because one person can contribute and they have a lot of hands total, so it makes a bigger difference," Bucci said.
Trees for Troops delivered 243,955 trees to service members over the last 15 years. More than 800 different real Christmas tree growers have contributed trees.
Airman 1st Class Anthony Salmeri, another first-time volunteer from the 109th Airlift Wing, said he felt pride in participating.
"This year has not been a great year with COVID and everything else going on, so I figured for me it was the least I could do just to give a helping hand where I can," Salmeri said.
"Something like this, where they are getting a tree, anything like that helps, and it definitely helps raise morale."