Juan Pardo/Special to The S.F. ExaminerDenice Delema and other residents of Holly Courts received Christmas trees for free from the Guardsmen charity group

Donated trees brighten holidays for S.F. public housing residents

Denice Delema's apartment at Holly Courts is small and dark, with windows that make it “look like we're in jail.” But for the noble fir standing proudly near the front door, the surroundings sure beat the wood chipper.

With her daughter and son-in-law out of town and her boyfriend away visiting family, Delema did the math and decided against having a Christmas tree this year — opting to use her tree budget to pay bills instead.

That changed Sunday.

Delema and 89 of her neighbors at Holly Courts — the oldest public housing property in the Housing Authority portfolio, and the oldest public housing west of the Mississippi — have Christmas trees courtesy of the Guardsmen, the longtime Presidio-based men's charity group.

Denizens of public housing in The City receive some charity at Christmas regularly — the Police Department's Operation Dream has given toys to children 12 and under for years.

But never trees.

The idea to gift the trees to low-income families materialized late last week, at a Christmas party where Guardsmen members — who stage an annual sale of Christmas trees every year at the cavernous exhibition space at Fort Mason — and city employees were mingling.

As the weekend before Christmas approached, the Guardsmen were looking at almost 100 unsold trees due to be “recycled” — that is, chopped to mulch — if they weren't sold. The 5- to 7-foot-tall trees normally fetch up to $100 each.

Instead of cashing in, they were hoping to find a place to donate the trees. Someone suggested the Housing Authority.

A wonderful idea, but not so simple — there are rules.

Were the trees fire retardant? Would they fit inside the units? And where was a public housing project that had roughly the same number of units as available trees?

The answers were yes, yes and Holly Courts, which has 113 units. And the Housing Authority was happy to oblige.

“We didn't want them [the trees] to get grinded,” said Rose Dennis, a spokeswoman for the authority, who added that a Holly Courts resident who owns a pickup truck delivered trees to residents with disabilities. “We're glad someone could benefit from them.”

Of course, what's a tree without ornaments? That Christmas quandary was solved too, via a Crowdtilt campaign organized by Christina Resasco and some of her friends “in the tech community,” she said.

About $700 was raised in 48 hours. That was enough to deliver stockings filled with ornaments and tinsel along with each tree.

“We know the tree represents the spirit of holidays,” Resasco said. “We wanted to give that.”

This is the first tree donation Delema can recall in her 22 years living at Holly Courts. However, it could become more common, as Resasco said there are already plans to do it again next year.

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