Troops and local veterans stationed at bases across the country will receive live Christmas trees this year, courtesy of the U.S. Marines and Suffolk County, officials said.
The Marines' Toys for Tots program is partnering with the Suffolk OTB and the St. Louis based-Christmas Spirit Foundation, which runs the Trees for Troops program, to ship 500 trees, including 50 trees donated by Jake's 58 Casino, to troops through FedEx.
“Now it’s time to give back to our armed forces with Trees for Troops,” said Toys for Tots co-chairman Sean Acosta. “Just like kids, we want to put smile on our troops’ faces and those helping us.”
Organizers had originally announced plans to ship trees to bases overseas, but the Christmas Spirit Foundation said overseas shipments were halted in 2020 and looking to resume shipments abroad once they can fix packaging issues.
The Christmas Spirit organization is planning to send an additional 15,500 trees to 84 domestic bases in the continental United States.
Suffolk County officials, including District Attorney Ray Tierney, joined Marines on Wednesday at Jake’s 58 Casino in Islandia to announce the program and encourage the public to donate trees and contribute to the Toys for Tots program.
Trees and toys can be dropped off at the casino. Toys for Tots also expects to collect about 100,000 toys during their toy drive Sunday at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, which will be held from 9 to 11 a.m.
A way to say 'thank you'
The Suffolk County OTB is also donating $2,500 toward the tree program, with additional trees coming from Donaldson’s Farm in Hackettstown, N.J., the organization’s CEO Anthony Pancella said. The OTB will also donate $2,000 to Toys for Tots.
Suffolk OTB managing director Phil Boyle said providing Christmas trees to troops and their families away from home, "is just a small token of our appreciation and a way for us to say, Thank you.”
“Every kid deserves a toy and all our armed forces deserve a Christmas tree at least,” Acosta said. “ We’ve helped kids for so many years and seen so many happy faces. People see a Marine as real tough, but they may not be able to go home protecting our local bases and we want to bring smiles to their faces too.”
With rising inflation, the Toys for Tots charity has been struggling this year for donations, Acosta said. He said families who may have contributed last year need help this year to provide Christmas presents.
“I think a lot of people are hurting and are facing a very different feeling this year,” Acosta said. “People hurting last year are still hurting this year.”