First Baptist Youth Christmas tree lot brings community together

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At the First Baptist Church of Greater Cleveland, the annual Christmas tree sale provides an opportunity to reach out to the neighborhood. “We’re not just selling trees—we’re building relationships,” said Jae Williams, director of youth ministries.

The tradition of selling Christmas trees began in 2006, when the late Bill Cumming, a well-known physician and First Baptist member, planted a grove of trees at Camp Koinonia, a children’s summer camp in Geneva County. The idea was to bring a crop of trees each year to sell at the church.

From Bill Cumming and John Wilder, another church member who had his own Christmas tree farm, Williams said he learned three important things:

  • Every customer is a potential relationship.
  • Keep the lot clean and attractive; make it a place for people to hang out and soak in the Christmas Spirit.
  • There is no such thing as a bad tree; each can be shortened or trimmed into a nice Christmas tree for someone.

Williams sees the Christmas tree sale as an opportunity to both build relationships in the neighborhood and raise money for First Baptist’s youth ministry program. One year, said Williams, all the trees were sold two weeks before Christmas. This year, he has ordered 700 trees and hopes to keep the lot open through Dec. 23.

The money raised supports First Baptist’s youth scholarship fund. More importantly, said Williams, it involves young people in the life of the community. Open Doors Cleveland Heights is providing 25 young people to help unload and sell trees, and an additional 25 are from FBC Next Generation Open Gym Basketball. 

The tree lot provides Christmas jobs for some of the youths. Those who have volunteered at least nine hours at the lot can apply for a handful of jobs that pay $9 an hour.

Williams recalled one elderly couple that came to buy a tree: “Some of the young people delivered the tree to their home, set it up and decorated it. The couple then brought friends to the lot who needed, and received, the same kind of help.”

Another time, a young couple came to the lot who had just been married at the courthouse. "They had five dollars," said Williams, "and wondered if we had a ‘Charlie Brown Christmas tree’ they could buy. We gave them the best tree we had as a wedding gift.” 

The lot, at 3630 Fairmount Blvd. in Shaker Heights, is open Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 1–9 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tree prices range from $20–55.

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Volume 5, Issue 12, Posted 7:55 PM, 11.29.2012