Bermuda is no stranger when it comes to importing Christmas trees. For years, local businesses have supplied families with their perfect evergreen balsam or Fraser fir—plucked straight from east coast farms in the US and packed tightly into containers ready to be shipped to our shores before becoming the festive centrepiece inside our homes. Perhaps the most meaningful vendor to support, though, is Bermuda Xmas Trees, a community-led organisation that donates a portion of its sales to local charities.

Although the Christmas holidays are synonymous with festive cheer and joy, Phil Martin and Pete Schindel of Bermuda Brickyard recognised that this period of time can shine less brightly for some families and thus took over the reins of Bermuda Xmas Trees, which was founded in 2009 by Richard Powell. Their aim is simple: “To make a difference, support those in need and hopefully help spark positive change within the community.”

Each year, the organisation imports two to three container loads of hand-picked Christmas trees from Northern Vermont, approximating to 800 trees which can even be preordered on their website as early as October. All costs are fronted by Bermuda Xmas Trees, and after expenses are deducted, the funds are divided and contributed to charity.

In previous years, the organisation prioritised its efforts on providing support to the youth of Bermuda. “We could see that our young people were not learning or moving forward due to factors such as an increase in gang activity and the cancellation of trade schools,” explains Martin. “We simply wanted to try and make a difference for some young people and hopefully create opportunities for them to grow and be productive members of society.”

However, with societal changes, the organisation has shifted its focus to respond accordingly, the most recent example being the COVID-19 crisis. “As a result of the pandemic we moved to support mental health and food programmes,” says Martin. When many found themselves unemployed or under financial strain due to lengthy lockdowns, the need for food vouchers became prevalent within our community and funds raised during this period benefited families in need through church-organised food voucher programmes. This year’s Christmas tree sales will continue to support the distribution of food vouchers by working in tandem with local charities.

To date, Martin and Schindel have raised about $100,000 for local nonprofits, but their contributions do not stop there. Outside of Bermuda Xmas Trees, Martin is a director for the Bermuda Triangle Challenge and has raised $25,000 for Raleigh Bermuda. “Through volunteering, I have learned and grown,” says Martin. “You meet so many great people and learn from their life experiences, which are not only heartbreaking but so uplifting it is hard to believe.” Schindel, who has also given back to the community in terms of aviation through pilot and aircraft instruction for young Bermudians, adds, “It’s about what you do in life for others. It is such a great feeling knowing we have made a positive impact on the people in our community.”

With a shared mindset on philanthropy and a steadfast goal to make an impact on Bermuda’s society, Martin and Schindel hope with their organisation, Bermuda Xmas Trees, “to support the community and act as a positive change agent” in the years to come. Judging by the quality of their trees with their woody, pine fragrance, we predict this initiative shows no sign of faltering.