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Free trees spread Christmas spirit and loved one’s light

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When his brother, Ben, died tragically in 2008, Robert Pickett felt his life was devoid of a special smile and spirit. Seven years later he and his family founded an initiative to prolong his brother’s light, which he said would brighten any room, by founding an initiative to donate Christmas trees to families who cannot afford them.

Ben’s Branches is an initiative that provides Christmas trees to families in the Washington, D.C., and Wilmington areas. In the aftermath of Ben’s death, Ben’s Branches has been a way for Pickett to find peace.

“Finding a way to perpetuate his personality has been a way I have found peace with it,” he said.

The Picketts realized that donating Christmas trees was a meaningful way to reduce families’ holiday expenses while spreading Christmas spirit.

“A tree is something that carries a big expense,” said Pickett, an alumni of the University of North Carolina Wilmington. “My brother was a little mountain man, so this is our way of perpetuating that and adding that touch of magic to the holidays just as a Christmas tree does.”

In 2015, when it came time to set Ben’s Branches in motion, Pickett reached out to Laura Tiblier, co-owner of Ceviche’s Inspired Panamanian Restaurant and Bar on Wrightsville Avenue, where he was formerly employed as a bartender. Ceviche’s helped the Pickett family reach beyond the scope they were anticipating.

“Last year, we had donated some money for him to deliver a few trees, and then it just exploded,” Tiblier said.

Initially not realizing the scope of interest for the project, the Pickett family personally delivered nearly 50 trees to local families during the 2015 Christmas season.

This year, the Picketts partnered with the Brigade Boys & Girls Club of Wilmington, which serves as a distribution point. The club allows individuals to pick up trees from their location and helps identify families in need.

“Logistically speaking, working with the Boys & Girls Club has been a huge help because it allows us to get to more homes,” Pickett said.

Tree suppliers in Wilmington and Boone have been instrumental in providing nearly 50 trees to bring Ben’s spirit into homes this season.

Following a delivery Sunday night, Pickett witnessed a moment that stuck with him.

As he walked out of a local family’s apartment after installing a tree, he overheard a young girl’s excitement from down the hall.

“Woo-hoo! We have a real tree!”

Although Ben’s Branches is wrapping things up for the 2016 season, they are always looking for tree stands, lights and ornaments in good working condition.

To get in touch with Ben’s Branches to help donate gently used Christmas decorations or inquire about sponsorship, the Pickett family requests donors visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BensBranches.

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