COLTS NECK – When Elaine and Al Cangiarella rolled down the rugged dirt driveway of the Fir Farm in Colts Neck this past Sunday, the couple was in search of a piney Balsam fir capable of bringing the aroma and warmth of the holiday into a home…just not their own.
For the past five years the Fir Farm has participated in a program known as Trees for Troops, an initiative founded in 2005 by the National Christmas Tree Association and its offshoot, the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation. Annually Trees for Troops delivers thousands of Christmas trees to families and individuals stationed at domestic military bases, as well as those located abroad in active war zones.
“It’s a little thing for us to do and we felt like we had to,” Elaine said, after penning a cheerful note to an unknown soldier and pinning it to the prickly branch of one of approximately 200 donated trees collected by Fir Farm personnel over the first weekend in December.
“Sometimes you’re just horrified when you hear that healthcare is so poor for our veterans and living conditions on the bases are not what you think they would, or should, be. So this is a small way for us to brighten the holidays for a military family and we’re happy to do it,” Elaine added.
The 23-acre Fir Farm at 166 Hillsdale Road has been selling Christmas Trees for nearly 40 years.
Brothers Bob and Mickey Clark took ownership of the grounds in 2003. They have continued the tradition of providing locals with the option of purchasing a pre-cut pine or wandering the parcel to identify and cut down their own Christmas tree.
In recent years the brothers have regularly supplied towns like Red Bank and Asbury Park with massive Balsam firs to be lit up for holiday events, but the Clarks agree that no tradition has meant more to their family business than the Trees for Troops drive.
“It’s always nice to give back, but when you can give back to members of our military, we jumped at the opportunity,” said Bob Clark, whose father served in the Navy during World War II. “It’s military-related. It’s Christmas tree-related. We have the farm. So it just fit our situation like a glove.”
Those who venture to the Fir Farm have the option to attach a personalized note to a donated tree. Upon receiving the donation, troops and their families are encouraged to submit photos and thank you notes for social media publication.
“They write the nicest things about their experience and what it means to them that strangers would go out of their way to brighten their holiday,” said Manalapan native Trish Walsh, a volunteer enlisted by Clark to assist with the collection.
“I’ve read them all. It’s very touching,”
“Two years ago a note that my kids wrote out with pictures of reindeer and Santa Claus was featured on the site,” Bob added. “And to see the joy it brought to that service member, and how thankful they were to have the tree, it’s what the holiday season is all about.”
Since its inception, the program has made 208,720 tree donations.
Last year there were more than 17,400 trees donated to 70 U.S. military bases and an estimated 250 trees shipped to troops stationed at four different international bases.
The Clarks’ Fir Farm operates in rarified air, as one of just 13 participating Christmas tree vendors around the country, including operations in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The Fir Farm is joined by fellow Garden State distributors as Cerbo’s Parsippany Greenhouse and Donaldson’s Greenhouse & Nursery in Hackettstown.
For more information about the Fir Farm’s participation in the effort visit thefirfarm.com.
This article was first published in the Feb. 28-March. 6, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.
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