While a national Christmas tree shortage is tending to drive prices slightly up this year, there is no shortage of places that residents of the western communities can buy trees, including many run by nonprofit organizations in Wellington and Royal Palm Beach.
For more than 20 years, Boy Scout Troop 125 of Wellington has sold trees at St. Peter’s United Methodist Church on Forest Hill Blvd. Another longstanding tree location is the site run by the student council at Royal Palm Beach High School in the parking lot of the school’s Okeechobee Blvd. campus. Both places have their loyal fans.
Sasha Colal took her 10-year-old son Everett and 12-year-old daughter Alexa to select the family tree at St. Peter’s this year.
“One of my favorite parts of the holiday is selecting our family Christmas tree,” the Wellington mother said.
She was not happy with the tree she got last year from a big box retailer.
“This year, I am so happy to help the scouts and do business where they are giving me great customer service and a nice selection of fresh trees,” Colal said.
Everett and Alexa also enjoyed picking out their 10-foot tree. Everett said his favorite part of the process is decorating the tree, while Alexa looks forward to her traditional task of placing an angel on top of the tree.
Assistant Scoutmaster Neil Derryberry said that with the exception of using the chain saw, the scouts are fully involved in every stage of the process.
“Look at the quality of lashings our scouts used to erect this tree enclosure,” he said with pride while pointing to structures built by the scouts to facilitate the sale.
The scouts’ long history of selling trees in the Wellington community bring customers from near and far.
“We heard about this tree sale from our friends, and we came over here to buy a tree because we want to support scouting,” said Sofie Geysen of Wellington.
Dawn Sgarlata agreed. “The scouts are most helpful,” she said. “This is our fourth year buying from the scouts, who provide exceptional customer service.”
The troop hopes to sell approximately 500 trees this year with prices ranging from about $60 to $165.
In Royal Palm Beach, electrical contractor Jason Intoppa stopped by the high school this week to buy a tree on his way home from work. He is very picky about the quality of trees that his family uses for the Christmas holiday.
“We didn’t have time to cut one down ourselves this year, so the next best thing is here at the high school,” he said. “I like to buy here because it’s a good cause, and the student volunteers provide such great customer service. But more importantly, they have the area’s best selection of trees.”
For those who want a really big tree, towering more than 13 feet and weighing several hundred pounds, the place to go is the parking lot of Royal Palm Beach High School.
The students teamed up with Happy Holiday Trees and boast an impressive selection of Frasier firs and Noble firs ranging from three to 13 feet and from $39 to $549.
That’s not a typo. “Our largest tree takes eight or nine kids to lift and costs $549,” said RPBHS teacher Shannon Makowski, the student council advisor.
According to Makowski, a national shortage of trees occurred this year partly due to hurricane damage at tree farms in the Carolinas.
She added that they are able to keep costs down and raise money for student activities because of the student volunteers. Every member of student council is required to spend at least 70 volunteer hours at the tree stand, which is open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Tamia Augustin and Andrew Leslie are “Mr. and Mrs. Wildcat” at Royal Palm Beach High School. Those are their official titles bestowed after a student competition. Their normal duties involve raising school spirit at pep rallies and big games, but their current mission is to raise Christmas spirit in the western communities.
“We are the king and queen of happy and spirited vibes,” said Augustin as she gave a child a free “Charlie Brown-style” tree that she and other volunteers make from scraps for the kids who visit the lot.
Leslie said in his house, there is a strong family tradition of putting up a Christmas tree. “But every year, ornaments break, and we don’t replace them,” he said. “Pretty soon, we are going to have a tree with no ornaments. But that’s OK to me, as long as we have a tree.”
EmmaLou Riddle said that her favorite part of volunteering at the RBBHS tree lot is that so many loyal customers come back year after year.
“One lady here earlier today said this is the 15th time she has bought here in the last 15 years,” Riddle said. “That makes me feel good to be part of an organization that has a loyal community following.”
Janiya Pryor, another student volunteer, said her biggest surprise about working with trees is how heavy they are.
Mathew Stephens of Happy Holiday Trees said that there are plenty of trees to choose from.
“We will be receiving eight tree shipments this season, so customers will always be assured a fresh tree,” he said.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, the best way to select a tree from a retail lot is to measure your space in advance, think about your decorations and learn about different types of trees available. For example, a Noble fir will hold heavier ornaments than a Frasier fir. Do a branch and needle test for freshness. Run a branch through your enclosed hand; the needles should not come off easily. Bend the outer branches; they should be pliable. If they are brittle and snap easily, the tree is too dry. Look for other indicators of dryness or deterioration. Happy tree hunting!