Steve Kraly of BAE Systems with Joni Kaiser of United Way
Now in its fifteenth year of partnership with United Way, BAE System’s Christmas tree program purchases and delivers Christmas trees, gifts, and holiday cheer to families in need across the community.
While standing in the United Way board room the morning of the 2014 delivery day, program organizer Steve Kraly looked over photographs from years past. With a cheerful smile, he recalled, “Our first year, we distributed a dozen trees - real trees, in a large box truck. The following Christmas, it increased to twenty trees. We’ve continued to grow, reaching out to fifty families this year”.
Steve Kraly addresses the volunteer group prior to deliveries
The goal of the day is to reach out to local families who may be facing some challenges, not only to spread a little holiday spirit, but to ensure they know the community stands behind them. For many BAE employees, participating in the program has become part of their holiday tradition.
“We started volunteering for the Christmas tree delivery program when our children were 10 and 15 years old”, said Jeff Gernhart, a long-time employee of BAE Systems, “They’re now grown, each in their twenties”. Participating in the delivery for the 1tth season, Jeff and his wife, Debbie represent two of the sixty five BAE employees and family members present for the event.
Jeff and Debbie Gernhart with gifts in hand
With a light snow still lingering in the United Way parking lot, all of the volunteers headed out in various directions with trees and gifts in tow, as we joined Jeff and Debbie for their two deliveries.
At the first stop, we were greeted by Jennifer and her three children, James, Jassiah and Jordyn. Jennifer explained that after digging through old decorations that were given to them by family, the kids found themselves overloaded with branches for their Christmas tree… with no trunk pole to hold it all together. However, that moment of disappointment had clearly past when all three kids rummaged through their new ornaments and excitedly asked if they would be putting it all together that afternoon. A sense of holiday joy was already in the air as we parted company with Jennifer and her children to meet with our next family.
Jeff and Debbie with the Williams Family
Our next delivery brought us just down the road to Christina and her two children, Emmaleigh and Alexander. After a knock on the door, we immediately heard the unmistakable sound of scampering young feet followed by a warm welcome as the door swung open. Without a second thought, Christina invited Jeff and Debbie in, wet boots and all. She presented a bottle of natural moisturizer soap she had prepared herself as the children showed us the spot in the living room that was already cleared out for the tree. After admiring their home-made tree decorations, we were on our way after exchanging smiles, and warm holiday wishes.
Christina with her children Emmaleigh and Alexander
Special thanks are due to Steve Kraly at BAE Systems for all of his behind the scenes work and effort in driving the program forward every year. Because of the work of people like Steve, Jeff, and Debbie, the generosity of BAE Systems and its employees will continue to resonate throughout the community this holiday season.