By Muriel J. Smith |
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas all over the Two River area, but the spirit of the season shines especially bright in the volunteers who give hours of their own time selling Christmas trees for organizations that then use those profits to assist even more good causes.
Take the case of the Little Silver Fire Company. Their Christmas tree sales in front of the fire company have been going on so long there’s no one around who can give the precise date when they started. But everyone knows how the seasonal business has grown over the decades and what good will is delivered along with the more than 1,000 spruce and two varieties of firs that are sold.
Or stop in at the tree sale on First Avenue across from the Atlantic Highlands Borough Hall. That sale has also been going on for decades, first run by the borough’s volunteer Fire Department, but in recent years taken on by the borough’s Community Event Committee, another non-profit organization formed to help local causes. There’s no doubt Christmas is in the air along with the aroma of fresh fir trees and many times with the added spice of holiday music.
Shawn Mery is president of the Little Silver Volunteer Fire Company and a second lieutenant on its fire fighting team. The borough owns all the equipment, including all the firefighting apparatus, but the nonprofit fire company owns the building and grounds that house the equipment. Funds derived from the tree sales go towards the maintenance and upkeep of the department’s building, covering everything from keeping the grounds neat and clean to paying the electric bill and making any necessary repairs.
Still, part of the funds also go towards the borough’s annual Christmas Eve toy delivery program, a unique idea of the department which once again spreads good will in more ways than one. Parents can bring toys with their addresses included to the firehouse for special fire truck deliveries to their children on Christmas Eve. The deliveries number in the hundreds, Mery said, explaining why several trucks and many man hours are used for the deliveries. In return for this special service, each family is asked to donate a food item to the delivering truck volunteers, which in turn, is then donated to Red Bank food pantries by the department.
Buying a tree at the Little Silver Fire Department is also a family tradition for many in town and a delightful way to spend an evening, or better yet, some time on a weekend. That’s when one of the department members, Kevin Halpin, brings a pair of alpaca from his animal farm to the firehouse to the delight of the children. More closely related to the camel than the reindeer, this fluffy-fleeced animal that hails from South America is known for its quiet personality and gentleness, especially with children. And for the adults, the Coffee Corral, a popular Red Bank business known for its fresh ground coffee beans, sets up a concession weekends at the tree sale for coffee, hot chocolate and other goodies.
The Little Silver Department was established in 1906 and currently has more than 100 members. Their tree sales are open every evening during the week and all day Saturdays and Sundays, thanks to the more than 2,800 volunteer hours put in by more than 80 men and women of the department. Their trees range in price from $40 to $250, and in size from 3-foot to 20, a price that includes baling, fresh cutting, putting on top of the car or making a home delivery as far as Colts Neck, and setting it up in the home. There are also wreaths, grave blankets, roping, sprays and some very unique handmade wooden snowmen custom made by a local craftsman for sale.
The Atlantic Highlands volunteers offer three varieties of trees, coming from Nova Scotia, Pennsylvania and North and South Carolina. In addition to the Nova Scotia balsam, best known for their prolonged fragrance, sales are also popular for the Douglas and Frasier firs given their stronger branches and long retention of needles. Their trees range in price from $45 to $120, and come in all sizes from 4 feet to 12. As in Little Silver, the price includes fresh cuts, baling, hoisting on top of the car, or delivery to local homes.
Kim Spitola has chaired the tree sales almost from the beginning eight years ago when the Events Committee took over the job from the Fire Department, who had conducted the sale for decades. Eight years ago, the Fire Department, which was formed in the early 1880s, opted to extend their other popular annual event, the Fireman’s Fair at the Yacht Harbor over Fourth of July weekend, an extra day, requiring more volunteers then in order to accommodate the thousands of visitors who attend. The Events Committee took up the challenge of continuing the popular tree sale event.
The tree sales are just one of numerous events the committee organizes, always for a specific cause or need within the borough. One year it was for the Genevieve Hawley Scholarship Fund at Henry Hudson Regional School, another for the Sandy Hook Little League; this year’s cause is the Fire Department, Spitola said. Just as in Little Silver, the sales demand volunteer labor, and it isn’t unusual, as on a recent Sunday, to see both Mayor Fred Rast and his wife, Mickey, putting in hours helping customers select the perfect tree and prepare it for its trip to a family’s living room. A portion of each year’s proceeds also forms the start-up for the next year’s cause, another portion goes to the Blind Men’s Association in Leonardo, and some always goes to both local needy families and the local food pantry.
Spitola added that in addition to trees, sprays and wreaths are also available at the site, including some special wreaths celebrating the shore. She gathers shells from the beach and creates unique designs with them, along with ribbons, pinecones and holiday fare.
While the Rasts are frequently on the scene volunteering, Marci and Billy Mount are the primary volunteers for the entire season, Spitola pointed out, with Billy “the strongman of the lot,” trimming, bailing and lifting. The Mounts say they volunteer so much of their time “because that’s the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to help your neighbor and help anyone in need.”
Volunteers don’t have any firm dates or times to show up to do their share, the chairman said, “but anybody who stops in and wants to help, we welcome. We are always looking for those sturdy guys who can help with the carrying and lifting.”
A middle school teacher, Spitola spends the three to four weeks before Christmas coming from school to the tree sales, and does it, along with her husband, because, like the Mounts, she believes “it’s the thing to do. We’re all neighbors and friends.”
She admits there’s a lot of fun involved in the volunteerism as well, and it always gives her a thrill to see families come together, walk through the trees and make that final big decision of which one is the perfect one for them. “You can’t forget those special memories and to play a part in making them happen, well, that’s just Christmas.”
The Atlantic Highlands tree sales are 4 to 8 p.m. weekdays, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. As in Little Silver, there’s no final date for sales…it’s the day they’re all sold out.
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