In true C.S. Lewis fashion, customers can step through a wardrobe and into a forest of Christmas trees just off of Newberry Road at Destiny Community Church’s Buy a Tree, Change a Life event.
Complete with fur coats, a lion and a lamppost, the site aims to create a fun Christmas tree experience while also encouraging customers to pay a “little bit way too much.”
The site received 300 Fraser Fir trees on Saturday and will start selling them at noon Monday. The church held the event last year for the first time, joining 46 other tree sites around the country that sold a combined 11,000 trees.
Marc Woodstuff, site director at Destiny Community Church, said the trees sold out in five days last year. He hopes this year’s supply will last a little longer because he doubled the order.
“I’m thinking we’d probably be done by the second Friday,” Woodstuff said.
Located under a hard-to-miss white tent, the site will have bounce houses, hot chocolate, cookies and a writing station for letters to Santa.
On Black Friday, the site will have an outside movie night, and the following Friday will feature a food truck rally.
Buying a tree forms the first part of the event, but changing a life is the reason. The Newberry location raised just over $43,000 last year for local and international causes.
Woodstuff said half the money was given to People for Care and Learning, which dispersed funds to Cambodia, Guatemala and the Golan Heights. The other half the church distributed locally.
“This is an opportunity for them to dig a little deeper and pay a little bit more than the retail as a donation,” Woodstuff said.
The prices of the trees actually run below or at market prices, but he said the event encourages people to pay more, knowing that the money goes to community and international organizations.
“We create an environment where we want people to feel comfortable, we want them to have fun, and we want them to pick out a tree and take the idea that 100 percent of the proceeds are not going to line anybody’s pockets,” Woodstuff said.
Last year, the church gave $10,000 to Foster Florida so that foster families have immediate funds to buy needed supplies.
Another portion went to Sira of Gainesville, a pregnancy center. The funds covered the costs of ultrasounds for the entire year, along with hosting baby showers.
The church also held a backpack supply drive for students at Newberry Elementary School and took care of travel expenses for some athletes on the high school baseball team, which won the state title.
“If retail is all that you’ve got, that’s wonderful, but we always encourage people to pay a little bit way too much for the tree,” Woodstuff said. “It helps on the donation side.”
The Buy a Tree, Change a Life program started in 2012 with a church in Homestead. Wanting to raise $25,000 to cover adoption fees, the church sold Christmas trees and met its goal.
After the first year, a nonprofit formed and other churches joined the program. The organization has raised $3.7 million since then, with most sites in the South, plus Oregon and North Dakota.