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March / April 2009

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March / April 2009

By Marc Leepson

You see them pop up every year after Thanksgiving along highways all across the nation: Christmas trees for sale on temporary lots, often by a local service club. Many Lions Clubs run Christmas tree sales operations and many of them are excellent fundraisers. If your chapter is thinking about a Christmas tree fundraiser, here are some tips from a very successful one run by the Suburban Lions Club in Prince George’s County, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.

The club has been selling Christmas trees and wreathes on a donated lot along a state highway for eighteen years. Last year the Club netted about $13,000, selling about 600 trees, many to customers who come back year after year.

“The quality of the trees is important,” said Jim Cocchiaro, the club’s treasurer who has worked on the operation since it began. “We sell two types of trees, Fraser firs and white pines. The Fraser fir we call the ‘Cadillac of Christmas trees’; the white firs are less expensive.” Cocchiaro, a Vietnam veteran who served with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade in 1969, said the prices range from $20-90. “The Fraser firs sell the most. We get many repeat customers, including folks who have moved away from the area but come back just for our trees.”

The club begins the annual Christmas tree program in August or September. A two- or three-person committee determines how many to buy and places the order. The Suburban Lions get their trees from a North Carolina tree farm. They learned about the farm by scouring the Internet and then visiting farms to see for themselves. As for determining the total, the club started with 150 trees its first year. “We sold all of them,” Cocchiaro said, “and the next year ordered more, eventually getting up to 600.”

The operation also includes renting a diesel generator, temporary fencing, and a portable toilet. Finding the lot is crucial. The Suburban Lions use a 36-by-120-foot section of an unused private road that the owner donates. Other locations considered included parking lots in the local fire station and community center. The lot opens the first Saturday after Thanksgiving and stays open until the last tree is sold. The hours are 4:00 to 9:00 Monday through Friday, and 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on weekends. Nearly every club member pitches in, working three-hour shifts on the lot. In 2008, 20 of the club’s 26 members volunteered.

“That’s the hardest part,” Cocchiaro said, “getting people to commit to working on a cold winter’s night.”








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