Optimists out of Christmas tree business

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Christmas tradition in Vicksburg is ending after 57 years.

This year, for the first time since 1957, the Vicksburg Optimist Club will no longer be selling Christmas trees to raise money for the community programs it supports, club president Leo Foster said. The project was the club’s major fundraiser.

“We’ve got too much competition from corporations, and our members are getting older and unable to handle unloading the trees,” he said. “We’ve tried to get younger people to volunteer to come help us. We get some help, but only for about two or three days. We can’t compete with the prices from the corporate stores and with the pre-lit Christmas trees.”

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The club began selling trees at the old Fire Station No. 7 on Washington Street, and in 1983 relocated to its present site on the lot in front of Newk’s on Pemberton Square Boulevard.

Money raised from the tree sales in the past have gone to support youth soccer and baseball programs, bought letter jackets for the Vicksburg High School cheerleaders and sponsored babysitting and CPR classes with the Red Cross.

Optimist donations have also benefitted the Children’s Shelter, Jacobs Ladder, Haven House, Lifting Lives Ministries and the Vicksburg Police Department’s Randy Naylor Summer Youth Program.

“They have been a faithful supporter of our program,” Vicksburg Police Chief Walter Armstrong said. “We have to rely on donations, and their donations to us have been important. Their loss would have a tremendous effect. I hate to hear that.”

Haven House executive director Georgia Grodowitz said the Optimists have been regular supporters of the women’s shelter, adding, “their donations help us to provide services that are not paid through grants or other funds, so losing their support would be a tremendous impact.

“I’ve heard they are looking at other programs, and I hope they can find something.”

Foster said the club would begin a new funding program in October, operating a food booth at the annual Old Courthouse Flea Market.

“We’re looking at some other things to raise money, as well,” he said. “We will find something else to help us support the community.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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