When a student at Southport Middle School learned about a teacher who gave out free Christmas trees to families who need one, she stopped in his classroom to ask if he had any left.
Eighth-grade algebra teacher Chuck Welch happened to have an extra Christmas tree in the bed of his pickup truck. When he learned that the student was in between a foster home and living with a grandparent, he personally delivered the tree to the student’s house after school.
The gesture was nothing new. For the past three years, Welch has given away more than 15 Christmas trees to similar students and families in need from his stand in Whiteland. This year, he’s given away about 20 Christmas trees to customers and students who couldn’t afford one.
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Every December, Welch proudly hangs a framed photo of his late mother inside the big white tent along U.S. 31 in Whiteland. A lesson he learned from his late mother is the sole reason for his generosity and kindness during the holidays.
Welch helped his mother, Ginger Bailey, run a Christmas tree stand at other locations in Johnson County before she passed away in 2003. Twelve years ago, a few customers came to Bailey’s stand wanting a tree, but didn’t have the amount of money they needed to buy one. After a few customers left with a tree for free, or cheaper than the original price, Welch complained that they couldn’t make any money by giving away trees.
Before Welch helped another customer, his mother scolded him. Bailey said she better not ever see him let customers leave without a free tree if they need it, or can’t afford one, Welch said.
Now in charge of his own Christmas tree stand, Welch asks teachers to let him know of any students who don’t have a Christmas tree so that he can bring them one, Welch said.
But Welch’s favorite way to honor his late mother is interacting with customers at his tree stand, where he gets to talk to people he’s never met before. When customers arrive, they have to walk through the tent and pass the photo to get to the Christmas trees. That’s where Welch meets them with a warm greeting and passes out candy canes and hot chocolate to kids.
“What kind of tree are we looking for?” Welch will ask as he welcomes customers into the tent.
It’s a common question at any Christmas tree stand. But the type of Christmas tree the customer wants isn’t the information Welch is really seeking.
“I need the cheapest tree you have,” a mother replied after her five children took off for the rows of trees to pick out the perfect one.
Welch told the woman the cheapest tree he had was $50, but he would knock the price down to $40. When the woman pulled out $40, she told him it was all she had. So, Welch took the price down to $20. The mother began to cry tears of relief and gratitude. That’s when Welch told her to keep her money and sent her home with a free tree and a stand, Welch said.
For every tree Welch sells, he puts $1 in a red donation bucket to cover the costs of the trees he gives away, he said.
But people who know Welch and have shopped at his tree stand for years will donate money as well, and others just see the bucket and drop a few bucks or spare change in, he said. Any extra money collected beyond the cost of trees is donated at the end of the year to organizations, such as the Salvation Army.
Welch also donates money to families. This year, he gave two families that stopped in for a tree $100 each to help them during the holidays.
“There’s a lot of poor families out there. The crying mom, or the student who’s family doesn’t have a tree, that’s who you feel for,” Welch said.