Tonawanda News

December 25, 2013

A Christmas gift of light

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — A holiday tradition launched more than two decades ago by former Erie County Legislator Chuck Swanick took place again Tuesday, when hundreds of Christmas trees were handed out to those who were not able to afford them otherwise.

The gesture will ensure a bright holiday for dozens of area families who otherwise would be lacking some holiday cheer. 

With dozens of tree distributors in the region, several of them gave their leftover wares to the the cause, which has taken place since 1988, after Swanick said he talked to tree purveyor David Arida, of the Arida Tree Farm, who is now deceased, but whose relatives are still involved in the effort. 

“I went over to his place at Anderson’s ice cream where he used to sell trees in the winter,” Swanick said. “I said, ‘instead of mulching trees why don’t we give them away to the needy?’ It made no sense to anybody to just mulch the trees if there’s people out there who can’t afford a tree because they’re having a tough time.”

On Monday night, about 400 trees were brought in to Tonawanda from several distributors who would have sent their leftover trees to be mulched. 

Instead, on Tuesday, hundreds of individuals and families steadily strolled by the Phillip Sheridan School on Elmwood Avenue to get a Christmas tree. 

John Drewiega, a Lovejoy resident who recently lost his job, said he was on his second trip to the school. Each round he picked up four trees for “women in my neighborhood” who did not have a Christmas tree. 

“Because I’m unemployed I’m using my spare time to do this,” he said. “The people in my neighborhood appreciate it. I believe in being thoughtful.”  

A man name Romeo, who lives near Erie County Medical Center, said he’s spent many Christmases prior without a tree and was grateful for the gesture.

“It’s a blessing to get one for free,” he said. “I haven’t had one since I was a child.” 

Swanick, who represented portions of Tonawanda during his 26-year tenure in the legislature, which ended in 2006, said that just because the trees are free doesn’t mean there’s a lack of choice, with varieties of all kinds and sizes available. He also noted that with the lingering effects of a recession those from all walks of life can struggle. 

“You can tell by the type of car they pull up in,” Swanick said, of the more affluent who may now being going through hard times. 

A group of about 10 volunteers trimmed the trees and helped those who arrived to select a tree and load it up into their respective vehicles. Swanick noted that the experience is particularly moving when it comes to children. 

“It’s a very good feeling to have the kids come out of the car, wide-eyed,” he said. “And that’s what it’s all about. Christmas is a time of giving and it’s a time to remember. We’re just trying to make sure that happens for more people.” 

Swanick added that some families or individuals choose to visit the spot later in the evening. The trees will be left at the school. 

The efforts is also supported by the Tonawanda Town Highway Department, according to Superintendent Bill Swanson, who said his department will mulch any trees not given away. 

“The town is happy to support this event every year,” he said. “Everyone should be able to have a Christmas tree.”