Vermont Couple Celebrated for Launching Charity Christmas Tradition

Ed and Robin Lemery started selling trees 30 years ago to honor their son, who died tragically

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A couple from central Vermont will be honored this weekend for starting a Christmas tradition that has had a decades-long legacy of supporting community members in the Waterbury area. 

The Wesley United Methodist Church in Waterbury will celebrate Ed and Robin Lemery in a ceremony Saturday morning at 11, thanking them for launching a Christmas tree sale 30 years ago that raises money to help feed food-insecure families.

The event started, Ed Lemery remembered in an interview Friday, as a way to process grief from the death of the couple’s oldest son, Jason. Jason Lemery was just shy of his 18th birthday when he died in a car crash leaving a party shortly before his high school graduation in June 1991.

“Helping other people heals the heart,” the father said, recounting a motto that defined the origins of the tree sale.

By December of that year, the couple had started selling Christmas trees for charity from the lawn of the church at 56 South Main Street in Waterbury.

The U.S. Forest Service is selling permits allowing people to cut their own Christmas trees at Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest.

The sale has now been running for 30 years.

“It’s an honor to be able to continue to the tradition they started,” said Skip Flanders, a church trustee who leads the tree sale effort today. “One of the most common comments that I hear from people is, ‘I don’t mind paying the price, knowing that it helps the food shelf.’”

Flanders said profits from the tree sales have exceeded $200,000 since the Lemerys launched the event. The trees for sale this year were grown in Waterbury, Flanders noted.

The money goes to support people facing food insecurity in Waterbury and neighboring towns, including the distribution of special Christmas meal baskets from the Waterbury Area Food Shelf.

“I like to think of it as the holiday sale really supports families having a happy, healthy, warm meal on the table for the holidays,” Dani Kehlmann of the Waterbury Area Food Shelf said of the results from the tree sale.

For more information on accessing assistance through the Waterbury Area Food Shelf, visit their website.

Tree customers said Friday they’re glad to know their purchase uplifts neighbors.

“It just makes it a lot more meaningful,” said Gail Edgerly, who was purchasing a tree from the church lawn.

An elderly couple poses in front of Christmas trees, holding a picture of their late son
Jack Thurston

In this anniversary year, three decades since Jason Lemery’s death and the start of the tree sale, many are thanking his family for launching the long-running tradition.

“Something really nice comes from something pretty horrible,” customer Monty Marko observed. “It’s a sweet way to turn that around a little bit.”

Despite the praise they’re receiving from neighbors and the attention from Saturday’s ceremony, it’s Jason’s parents who say they’re the grateful ones.

“This is an opportunity for us to say thank you for keeping this going for all these years,” Robin Lemery said. “Every year, when we see the trees out here, it just warms my heart to know that we have helped in some way.”

What started as a family’s way to heal has ended up creating countless happy holiday memories, with many more to come — under each tree that leaves the lot.

Forget buying a heavily trimmed, dry old evergreen that you'll throw out come the new year - more farms are now offering rentable Christmas trees that stay planted in a pot. Then, after the holiday, the tree goes back to the farm where it can stay healthy for next Christmas. When trees get big enough, they get planted in a forest. Monica Hudson of Rent a Living Christmas Tree joins from the farm in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.
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