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Charitable organizations raise money, and lift spirits with Christmas tree sales

Union Leader Correspondent

December 01. 2013 8:31PM
Milford Rotary members Walter Schnecker and Franz Frietsch sell trees in the parking lot of Frederick's Pastries in Amherst. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER PHOTO)

AMHERST -- FOR MEMBERS of charitable organizations throughout the state, getting in the holiday spirit means tackling a load of Christmas trees, getting a little sappy, and making families smile while raising funds for their communities.

In Amherst at Frederick's Pastries, the Milford Rotary is holding its annual Christmas tree sale, a tradition for both the volunteers who sell the trees and the folks who buy them.

The Milford Rotary hosts three big fundraisers a year, including a pancake breakfast, a golf tournament, and the Christmas tree sale. Combined, the group raises more than $100,000 annually, which is then fed back into the community through scholarships and grants to local organizations and schools.

For the Bedford Men's Club, the annual tree sale in front of Tek-nique, a restaurant in the Bedford Village Shops, also helps support community projects, President Jeff Benson said.

"We've bought weighted vests that help calm mentally challenged kids, stools for kids with severe ADD, and we've outfitted the police cars with portable defibrillators," said Benson. "We raise money and give it back to causes that make Bedford a better place to live."

In Londonderry, tree sales are conducted on one end of town by the St. Mark's Knights of Columbus and the Londonderry Lions Club, who combined will sell close to 900 trees this year, funding programs throughout the community.

Volunteer effort

Connor O'Regan, 15, a sophomore at Londonderry High School, was on hand Sunday helping folks put Christmas trees on their cars. O'Regan is one of the youth volunteers helping the St. Mark's sale, and said that watching the faces of children light up makes standing out in the rain and cold worth it.

"A family came by with two little kids who were so happy to get a Christmas tree," O'Regan said. "That's the kind of excitement you never really get from anything other than Christmas."

Gordon Barnard, 85, has been volunteering to sell trees for longer than he can remember. As the oldest member of the Goffstown Lions Club, he can't think of a better way to get ready for the holiday.

"I've been in the club for 40 years," said Barnard. "I've been doing this forever."

For members of the Milford Rotary, volunteering at the tree sale is a labor of love that members have a hard time avoiding.

"We get signed up for this," joked Rotarian Franz Frietsch. "We have no choice."

Keep the change

Families who buy their trees from charitable organizations tend to be loyal customers, said Deborah Ludwig of St. Mark's.

"A family came in this morning that's been buying their trees here for 20 years," Ludwig said.

Though trees offered by non-profit groups tend to be priced higher than at retail stores, people don't seem to mind.

"People are incredibly generous year after year," said John Blay of the Londonderry Lions Club. "We see the same people consistently, and they return because they know every dollar spent is going to charity."

"A lot of time they give us extra money," said Ludwig. "This time of year brings out the goodness in people."

Paying a little more for the tree is also a way people who don't have time to volunteer can give back, said Walter Schnecker of the Milford Rotary.

"We had someone come in this morning who handed us a $100 bill and told us to keep the change," said Schnecker. "Maybe life doesn't let them become part of Rotary, but this lets them feel like they're helping out."

"People come knowing that the money is coming right back to Bedford, but they also know we have very nice trees," said Benson.

Many of the organizations get their trees from Weir Tree Farms in Colebrook, and knowing they're supporting another New Hampshire business is an added bonus, said Benson.

We'd rather have our money go to the Milford Rotary than some faceless corporation," said Eric Huether of Milford. "But we got our tree here last year too and it was probably the best, freshest tree we ever bought."

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