Writer: Jay Rodman, 575-646-1996, firstname.lastname@example.org
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M. - With live Christmas trees selling for a hefty sum at local retail stores, many people in the Truth or Consequences area look forward every year to an alternative source, one that allows them to support a worthy cause while acquiring a fresh, locally harvested tree.
The occasion is the annual Winston Leggins 4-H Club's annual Christmas tree donation-only fundraiser, a tradition that goes back more than a decade.
Winston is a tiny community 40 miles northwest of T or C, but the 30-40 club members are known in the larger town because it is where most of them attend school.
The project is the club's signature event, according to Matthew Welty, president of both the club and the Sierra County 4-H Council. "People actually know our club according to our Christmas tree fundraiser and sales," he said.
"Normally we just pick a day about three weeks before Christmas, gather up the kids and parents that can use a chainsaw, and head up to the forest," said Shirley Muncy, a 4-H parent and former organizer of the project.
This year that day was Saturday, Dec. 8, and the place was a ranch northwest of Winston owned by Matthew's grandfather, Darell Welty.
A group of about 15 4-H'ers and parents converged on the ranch shortly after dawn. They spent a couple of hours on that sunny morning locating appropriate pinon trees, cutting and trimming them, and loading them into pick-up trucks and stock trailers.
Wielding one chainsaw was Dee Wear, New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service agent in Sierra County. He has participated in the annual project every year since he took the Extension position.
He feels that this 4-H leadership activity has several benefits. "It's a pretty neat community service and a pretty neat fundraising project for the kids," he said. "Plus it gets them out here, out in the wild blue, cutting trees down and working and having a sense of community with their neighbors."
Soon the crew was hauling nearly 100 trees down to T or C, where a local business owner had made her parking lot along the I-25 business loop available for the weekend project. By early afternoon, they were set up for business, joined by additional club members and parents.
Muncy said that while some trees may go for as little as $10, there are generous donors who pay as much as $100. Historically, the club has raised $800-$1,500 through the fundraiser.
Some of the money helps defray expenses for club members attending 4-H conferences. The club also budgets some for scholarships to graduating seniors heading for college.
The group operates the tree lot through the weekend. Muncy said leftover trees go to the local nonprofit Sierra Santas, where they are given to needy families free of charge.
"I've actually been doing this fundraiser and been active in 4-H for about nine years now," Welty said. "I've loved every single bit of it, from cutting the trees to having to do the work that nobody else wants to do, cleaning up trash on the highway or whatever. I've loved it all. I think that giving back to the community is what 4-H is about."
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