Farm helps spread holiday cheer to military families

Keris Tree Farm hosts Trees for Troops Nov. 30 to Dec. 2

BY JENNIFER KOHLHEPP Staff Writer

For many military families stationed across America and overseas, the holiday season will not be too merry and bright.

JEFF GRANIT staff Maggie Keris explains how Keris Tree Farm in Allentown will participate in the Trees for Troops program, a national effort that will provide more than 15,000 trees to military families across the United States and overseas this holiday season. JEFF GRANIT staff Maggie Keris explains how Keris Tree Farm in Allentown will participate in the Trees for Troops program, a national effort that will provide more than 15,000 trees to military families across the United States and overseas this holiday season. Some of these families will be split up, with husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, and sons and daughters called off to duty and having to leave significant others and children behind. Other families will get to be together but will have little as they settle into unfamiliar military bases that they have to make their new homes.

In an effort to help these families keep their spirits unbroken and their joy alive despite the trials and tribulations they may be facing this winter, the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation is asking the public to help it deliver 15,000 real Christmas trees this December to military families stationed across the United States and overseas.

JEFF GRANIT staff Maggie Keris walks through the rows of more than 25,000 Christmas trees at her family's Keris Tree Farm and Christmas Shop on Route 524 in Allentown Nov. 20. JEFF GRANIT staff Maggie Keris walks through the rows of more than 25,000 Christmas trees at her family’s Keris Tree Farm and Christmas Shop on Route 524 in Allentown Nov. 20. Since 2005, the National Christmas Tree Association, based in Chesterfield Mo., has collected donations of trees from Christmas tree farmers and retailers through its nonprofit branch, the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation. The foundation implements the Trees for Troops program and other activities devised to heighten the Christmas spirit in children, families and the overall environment.

FedEx partnered with the foundation in 2005, delivering 4,300 real Christmas trees to military families. As the program grew, nearly 12,000 troops and their families received trees at 25 bases and in 17 countries in 2006.

Since the foundation has received many requests from the public asking how the average person could help with the program, this year it is allowing consumers to purchase trees for the troops and their families at participating tree farms.

Keris Tree Farm and Christmas Shop, located on Route 524 in Allentown, has joined the national effort.

“We are very proud to be a part of this program,” Joe Keris, owner of Keris Tree Farm, said. “Also, for every tree that a consumer purchases, we will contribute $5 per tree to the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation, which implements the Trees for Troops program and other programs for kids, families and the environment.”

Keris’ wife, Maggie, who manages the Christmas shop at the farm, explained that 40 United States farms from as far east as New Jersey, as far west as California, as far north as Washington and as far south as Texas, have pledged their support to the program. She said New Jersey residents who would like to participate in the program should look no farther than Keris Tree Farm to help, as it is the only farm in New Jersey that has pledged its support this year.

“This is a great way for consumers to become directly involved with the Trees for Troops program and allow more military families to receive a tree this holiday season,” she said. “Providing memories at this time of year is extremely important, especially for families with loved ones serving our country.”

She said that individuals, families and community groups looking for their own tree or those just wanting to support the troops can come to the farm and pick out a tree to have sent to a military family for $55. She said the tree must meet certain requirements in that it has to be between 6 and 8 feet tall and must be a fir tree, which tends to last the longest.

“A Fraser fir has a double needle that is really nice,” she said. “It also has a pretty color and a nice scent.”

Those sending a tree will get the opportunity to compose a special message to the military family receiving it.

“The message on the tags to the families receiving the tree makes it a very personal purchase,” she said. “The program targets families that the foundation feels are most in need of assistance.”

The Trees for Troops program at Keris Tree Farm will take place Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. FedEx will pick up the donated trees Dec. 3 to start delivering them to the families.

Now in its 17th year of operation, Keris Tree Farm and Christmas Shop is a family-owned and -operated business that grows more than 25,000 trees and prides itself on encouraging everyone to participate in and enjoy the traditions of Christmas.

“This event gives us the opportunity – even though we are busy at this time of year – to participate in a charitable event,” Maggie Keris said.

“As a family, we can help other families,” she added, “and that’s a nice idea at this time of year – and hopefully a spirit that will carry on throughout the rest of the year.”

Along with the Trees for Troops weekend event, the tree farm will host other family activities this weekend, including visits from the Monmouth County and Mercer County 4-H clubs, the Cream Ridge Pony Club and Santa Claus. The Christmas Shop,

which offers ornaments and other holiday decorations such as greenery, homemade gifts and refurbished sleds for sale, will also serve complimentary refreshments.

During the time of year when merriments are plentiful for many families in New Jersey, Maggie Keris said, “We need to show support to our military families and make their lives a little easier.”

For more information about the Trees for Troops program or Keris Tree Farm and Christmas Shop, call (609) 259-0720 or e-mail perfecttree@aol.com.