by Debbie Tuma
Every year, the East Hampton Kiwanis Club has sold beautiful live Christmas trees to raise money for “Toys For Tots” and for needy families in the town around the holidays. The purpose of this club is to help local families with East Hampton High School scholarships, emergency assistance, Special Olympics, East Hampton Little League, YMCA Ocean Rescue, and local food pantries, in times of need, and especially at Christmas, to make sure the kids have lots of toys.
Each year, the East Hampton Kiwanis Club usually gets about 300 to 400 trees from Canada, but this year, due to transportation problems from the pandemic, they could only get about 200 trees. They set them up on the wide lawn of the American Legion Hall in Amagansett, and started selling them to the public Thanksgiving Weekend, right up until Christmas. The Kiwanis Club members took turns selling them every weekend, and during the week people could come pick out there trees and leave the money across the street at Brent’s General Store, on the honor system.
This worked for many years, until one day in mid December 2021, they noticed that about 70 trees were missing! These trees were selling for about $100 apiece, so this was a $7,000 loss for the club and the kids of the town.
“We couldn’t believe that anyone would steal from children, and also on the grounds of the American Legion Hall, an organization of the veterans,” said Jerry Schneider, an East Hampton Kiwanis Club board member, in charge of the tree sales. “We never expected this to happen here in East Hampton Town.”
Henry Uihlein, a founder of the tree sales in 1989, said “nothing like this has ever happened in the 33 years we’ve been selling them.”
The Kiwanis Club reported it to the East Hampton Town Police, but unfortunately the thieves were never found so far. The club members continued to sell the rest of the trees, and along the way, a few miracles happened. The community rallied around the club and started to send donations! An anonymous donor gave the club 30 Christmas trees, One Stop Market in Springs donated $2,000 to the East Hampton Kiwanis, and several other businesses also made monetary donations.
“We really appreciate the generosity and support of this community,” said Schneider. “It is heart warming to know that so many people care about their fellow neighbors, and it helped us lift up the Christmas spirit once again.”