BILLINGS — An army of Billings Central Catholic High School students were on hand at St. Pius X Parish in Billings on Sunday afternoon to help unload and organize a truckload of Christmas trees for a Knights of Columbus fundraiser.
"You smell like a Christmas tree afterwards, so that’s always nice," said John Pender, 16, a sophomore at Central High.
The Christmas trees have been for sale at the church for more than 40 years, said Phillip Zeeck, tree lot manager and Knights Council 9976 member. The Knights ordered around 700 trees to sell this year, he said.
“Originally the school used to do it as a fundraiser and then it was too much work for them so the Knights took it over. We decided it would be a way for us to fund our various charities that we support," Zeeck said.
"Some of those are: Family Service on the South Side, St. Vincent de Paul, we support LaVie pregnancy crisis center. There’s lots of people who come and ask us for help and we’re almost always able to help out," Zeeck added.
Two Knights Councils tag team the fundraiser: Council 9976 at St. Pius and Council 1259 at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Billings Heights, Zeeck said. The price on trees range from $35 to $90, depending on size.
Zeeck said the group normally runs out of trees by the second week of December.
“It is always a successful fundraiser. It’s better some years than others. But there’s a Christmas tree shortage. We don’t get the trees that we order it seems like. But we’ve got plenty of trees this year," Zeeck said.
A drought at the Christmas tree supplier in Sandpoint, Idaho meant the Billings Knights might not get their usual supply of trees, but the shipment ended up coming through.
"They’ve had a drought over there the same as we have. It’s been a little tougher. Those trees don’t grow so fast when it’s dry," Zeeck said.
The students at Central take a religion course, which requires 10 hours of community service per semester. Unloading the trees is a quick way to earn hours for some students.
Filippo Caporaso, 17, was helping unload the truck. He's a foreign exchange student from Como, Italy and said he hopes to share the Italian Christmas tradition with his classmates.
“Hopefully I will understand better the American tradition for Christmas. I’m hoping to go back to Italy to share with my friends and family so we can have a sharing of culture and tradition. But also I’m hoping to bring what is my tradition here so I can exchange culture and tradition," Caporaso said.
In Italy, there's strict tradition for when you put your tree up and down, Caporaso said. The tree goes up on Dec. 8 and gets taken down on Jan. 6 and the trees aren't nearly as decorated in Italy as they are in the U.S., Caporaso said.
“We still have Christmas trees. Maybe they’re not as beautiful as they are here. Christmas decorations aren’t as big of a thing in Italy as here," Caporaso said.
For other students, this isn't their first Christmas tree rodeo. Halle Anderson, a Central freshman, 15, said she's been helping out long before she was a student at the high school.
“I’ve been helping out with the Christmas trees since I was really little. My dad is one of the Knights, so ever since I’ve been I don’t know how old I come with him to at least sit in the trailer and help out there. Now that I’m older, I can help out with delivering trees and other stuff," Anderson said.
Anderson said the Christmas tree unloading always signals a start of the holiday season for her.
“It’s always been so much fun. I always love coming with my dad every single time he decides to help volunteer here and just help out and see all the families looking for their perfect Christmas tree and helping them find that perfect Christmas tree," Anderson said.
People can purchase a tree on Monday through Friday between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. The tree lot will be open weekends from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.