With so many places to choose from when buying a Christmas tree, Gateway Franklin Church has a unique approach. All the Christmas tree proceeds help children in need in Franklin and beyond.
“If you are going to spend money on a tree, why not help somebody in the process,” lead pastor of Gateway, Dr. Charlie Weir said.
Since 2014, Gateway has partnered with the nonprofit “Buy A Tree. Change A Life.” to sell Christmas trees that “help children globally and locally.”
A portion of the funds raised benefit children in Williamson County. Gateway has adopted three local charities, The Well Outreach based in Spring Hill, Natchez Social community center on Natchez Street in Franklin, and Fresh START in Columbia.
“We have members that are connected with them and are already invested in those organizations,” Weir said.
“Someone saw a need and decided to do something about it. We like to get behind people and organizations that get their hands dirty in the day-to-day lives of people in need. That’s what ministry is getting involved in the day-to-day lives of people offering hope in Christ.”
Gateway has partnered with The Well to provide students on free or reduced lunch at Heritage Middle School “jet packs” or food and snacks to take home with them over the weekend when they might not otherwise have food. Students simply pick it up from the guidance counselor’s office, and can discreetly put it in their backpack.
About 10 percent of the WCS population is on free or reduced lunch, according to WCS current statistics.
Natchez Social community center is another recipient of the tree sales proceeds. The center is a place for the entire community to gather, including children before and after school to hang out, do homework and play games.
On an international level, the partnership works closely with an organization called People for Care and Learning (PCL) that provides orphaned children in Southeast Asia a safe environment to call home. PCL owns four children’s homes in the region over three countries, which allow children the opportunity to attend trade schools and universities.
This year alone, 34 churches across 12 states are participating in Buy A Tree. Change A Life. Since 2012, over $900,000 has been raised, according to the official website.
Weir said that sales have been steady since they opened Nov. 18.
“We have sold a tree every eight minutes we have been open,” Weir said.
With the help of 60 church volunteers, unloading 400 North Carolina Fraser fir trees from a semi truck was no easy task, but a rewarding one, knowing every tree would make a difference around the world and locally.
For site director Becky Kuhl and husband Darren, they were a part of the volunteer efforts from the beginning four years ago and wanted their three boys to be involved as well.
“We wanted somewhere to plug-in and help out,” Kuhl said.
“We want it to be a family experience, something that the kids look forward to every year.”
Both customers and church volunteers congregated around the hay bales next to the toasty fire, with complimentary hot chocolate and S’mores.
The family-friendly, holiday atmosphere is alive at the tree lot, with plenty of community generosity during this season of giving.
“We have families that have made this their family tradition,” Weir said.