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Published: Sunday, 12/14/2008

Christmas tree giveaway helps dress holiday homes

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

No plastic branches. No piece-by-piece assembly. And no price tags.

All the Christmas trees spread out in front of the West Toledo YMCA on Tremainsville Road were 100 percent real - needles, trunk, spruce scent, and all - and the full batch of 300 was going free of charge to people looking to dress up their homes for the holidays.

"A lot of people are surprised we're giving away trees for free, no strings attached," said Eric Baumann, a pastor at NorthPoint Church, which yesterday sponsored the annual Christmas Tree Giveaway along with the YMCA branch.

Well, most came without strings; church volunteers provided a spool of the heavy-duty variety for those needing to tie their selections to their vehicle roofs.

After trimming and carrying the trees to the parking lot, volunteers asked recipients if there was anything in their lives that could use some prayer. August Mainz, 34, the on-site Christmas tree trimmer, said volunteers heard two common responses: "There's a lot of prayer for the economy, a lot of prayer for jobs."

Mark Russell of West Toledo said he recently was laid off for the winter season from his job at a horticulture nursery. He hopes he will be called back to work by winter's end, but nothing's for sure.

So yesterday morning he and his 14-year-old son, Alex, took the opportunity to save $35 to $40 and picked up a tree for free.

"The last few years have been kind of hard, but we're making it, I guess," Mr. Russell said.

Bundled up against the cold morning air, Mary Ann Engelhardt, 29, wore a look of gratitude as a volunteer positioned her Christmas tree into the passenger seat of her car.

Ms. Engelhardt of West Toledo said she has much to be thankful for this holiday. She does scheduling at the University of Toledo Medical Center, formerly known as the Medical College of Ohio Hospital, which this month announced 37 layoffs.

"I'm not one of the ones who have been laid off, and I pray that I'm not going to be. But being a single mom of four kids is always rough," she said.

Although Jim Hartford and his family already have a Christmas tree set up at home, he came to pick up a free one for a neighbor in West Toledo who is facing financial hardship.

The neighbor is a single father with three children who has a part-time job but can't find full-time employment, Mr. Hartford said.

"I know he's struggling a lot to even put food on the table at times," Mr. Hartford said. "So I called him up and asked if he wanted a tree."

The Christmas tree giveaway has been a tradition for seven years for NorthPoint Church, which also gave away trees yesterday at its church property on West Laskey Road near Harvest Lane. The church collects donations from its congregation to buy them from an area Christmas tree farm.

This was the second time that the church partnered with the YMCA for the event. In addition to providing a site for the distribution of trees, the YMCA's volunteers assisted during the event. This year featured 100 more trees than last year. By early afternoon, all 300 trees were gone.

One can be found in the living room of Debbie Fugert of North Toledo. By now it should be strung with lights.

"We get a live tree every year," said Ms. Fugert, a single mother of two children. "Things are a little tighter with the price of food and everything, so I took advantage of the giveaway."

While some in Toledo received free trees yesterday, other area residents were given food, clothing, toys, and bicycles.

The Church on Strayer, formerly the Cathedral of Praise, handed out items to more than 450 families during its annual Noel Project, a holiday giveaway that the church has undertaken for more than 30 years.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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