Trees bound for troops

More than 100 bundles of green were loaded onto a FedEx semi truck in Wichita on Monday, headed for Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.

The bundles are real Christmas trees donated by Kansas tree growers for the Trees for Troops program.

"It is our Christmas gift to the military," said Willy Goevert, owner of the 4C Tree Farm near Pawnee and Greenwich roads.

Growers from across the nation have donated between 15,000 and 16,000 trees for military troops to use over the holidays for each of the past five years.

Nine growers from across Kansas donated Scotch and Virginia pines this year.

"We want to give back," Goevert said. "We tree growers are salt-of-the-earth type of folks and we appreciate what military men and women do."

Fifteen American Legion riders from Derby, Mulvane and Wichita helped load the trees Monday. The process took less than 15 minutes and included a red-suited Santa.

"The American Legion riders were flying flags and the Santa Claus was the last person to arrive," Goevert said. "He arrived in a restored World War II military jeep."

The National Christmas Tree Association began efforts to deliver 5- to 6-foot trees to the troops five years ago. Since then, FedEx, which cooperates with the growers, has driven more than 150,000 miles delivering the trees. They have been distributed to families in every branch of the military at more than 50 bases in 17 countries, according to the website for Trees for Troops.