On Saturday, Smolak Farms was packed with military families picking out Christmas trees in the third annual Trees For Troops event.
Trees For Troops is a program organized by BAE Systems and the USO to provide local soldiers and their families with Christmas trees and more. Often when a soldier is deployed or has recently returned, his or her family struggles to make ends meet. In the troubled economy of the past few years, that reality has been exacerbated.
"We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them preserving our freedoms," BEA Systems spokesperson Lu Goncalves-Getty said.
So BAE Systems and the USO, with help from Smolak Farms, makes the holiday season a little brighter with Trees For Troops. The trees are donated to the families, and the families enjoy a fun day full of Christmas cheer.
"One thing that has stuck with me in doing this event was that these men and women put their butts on the line for us, and they need our help," Michael Smolak said.
At the Trees For Troops event Saturday, there was a whole lot of extra fun. Kids had their photos taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus, Blades the Boston Bruins bear hung out for a while, Boston Bruins Assistant Coach Doug Houda helped pick out a tree, Sen. Scott Brown and his family visited and Ayla Brown sang Christmas songs with the kids.
"This is my first year doing this, and it's a beautiful place out here," Houda said after helping an Everett family pick out their tree in the tree lot. "I love to give back and help out whenever I can. I got to meet a nice young family and help them pick out a tree. It's a great time."
Master Sgt. Ryan Thane was there with his girlfriend Tammy Stoddard and her children. Stoddard's husband served in the Army and passed away. She later met Thane in Idaho and they moved to Waltham because he's stationed in New England.
"For each family, it builds personal memories," Thane said, in awe of the magnitude of the festivities. "This includes people from all five branches, including the Coast Guard. New England USO does an amazing job. This is beyond just saying 'thank you,' they really go the extra mile."
This is the second year Thane and Stoddard have attended.
"It's incredible, what they do for those serving," Stoddard said. "I love meeting all the new people who have never been here before and hearing their stories. It brings us together in a whole new way."
To help out the USO New England, visit www.uso-newengland.org.