Christmas tree sales go for a second chance> Charleston Business Journal

Christmas trees are for the most part a festive symbol of holiday fun.

But for the Delancey Street Foundation, Christmas trees save lives.

Dubbed the ‘last house in the neighborhood,’ Delancey Street is a residential support organization for ex-drug addicts, ex-convicts, the homeless and others who have hit rock bottom and have nowhere to turn.

Established in five states after opening in San Francisco in 1971, Delancey Street has operated a home in North Charleston for the past decade, welcoming individuals and helping them change their lives with skills training, basic work habits , community involvement and employment. .

Some of those jobs include selling Christmas trees each December in the organization’s temporary lots at Park Circle and in the parking lot at West Ashley Target.

In fact, the job is more of a privilege if you ask Delancey Street resident Eric Meek.

“It’s a rite of passage,” Meek said, noting that new residents usually don’t have the opportunity to vacation.

Residents work the grounds from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, selling trees, operating cash registers and providing security.

This year Meek is the Park Circle Field Manager, while fellow resident Harold Barnhardt runs the West Ashley site.

“It’s more or less a fundraiser for us because we’re not taking state money,” Barnhardt said. “We are self-funded. We work. We have jobs.

Each year, Delancey Street sets a goal of selling 1,200 trees from November through Christmas – or until they are all sold. Their trees in particular are purchased for community decorations at North Charleston Town Hall, around Park Circle, and at Old Navy base homes, such as the Admiral’s House.

Finding that many trees, especially the larger ones, has been a challenge this year and as a result prices have almost doubled, but lots are still just as busy, Barnhardt said.

West Ashley resident Aimee Lassor has supported Delancey Street for years, first learning the program through the organization’s moving company, which she manages in addition to landscaping operations.

“I feel like most places in the trees are running a business. It’s just about selling the trees, and the money is profit for someone, ”she said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but when Delancey sells trees to give back to this program that gives people a second chance to be productive citizens, I really think it’s important. “

In addition to raising funds, tree sales create connections and provide networking opportunities for residents, Meek said. Many people who visit the lots have never heard of Delancey Street. Some leave by offering jobs to residents or even by recommending someone who needs the program.

“It’s great to interact with the public, the community, especially because Charleston is so supportive of us,” Meek said. “We have a lot of people coming through the lots, just people we’ve done work for, but a lot of people coming in and learning about us for the first time.”

Residents of Delancey Street include teenagers, the elderly, men and women of all ethnicities. All of them have nowhere to turn and a story that may have been written from drug and alcohol abuse or time spent in prison. Many are unskilled, illiterate, and have personal histories of violence and generations of poverty.

Residents stay at least two years, while the average member stays for four years, drug-free, alcohol-free, and crime-free.

“We are taking out the homeless, drug addicts, ex-convicts, people in prison. Just people who want to change their lives. People are losing their chance, ”Barnhardt said. “We like to say we’re the last house on the street. If you have nowhere to go, you usually want to go.

This is where the slogan “Buy a tree, save a life” comes from, he said. “You are helping to change a life. “

About 90% of the 40 residents of the North Charleston home come from jail or a court order, Barnhardt said. And everyone has different roles in the house. As a senior and third year resident, Barnhardt has 17 residents under him whom he mentors.

Delancey Street’s motto is “everyone, teach one,” which means each resident is responsible for learning something and paying a lesson ahead, Meek said. Residents start at the bottom and work their way up, learning from more experienced residents whether it’s fixing cars in their auto space, working in a restaurant, or wielding a hammer for the first time.

Through the program, residents receive a high school equivalency diploma and are trained in three marketable skills. Since most have never had a job, they also learn basic work habits, such as showing up on time, listening to a boss, and getting along with co-workers.

Residents also learn essential social and interpersonal skills that will help them successfully live in the mainstream of society after they leave.

A skilled craftsman before he arrived home, Barnhardt said being a part of Delancey Street gave him structure and confidence – and a relationship with his family once again.

“Living the lifestyle that I lived, doing what I did, it took me away from it all. I lost a lot of self-confidence. I just lost who I was. Delancey Street got me. basically rebuilt, gave me a life, gave me a chance, “he said.” I used to say that when I walked to the porch people would turn off the lights and pretended they weren’t home, now they’re calling me to see how I’m doing.

Stories like Barnhardt’s add support to Delancey Street’s mission when they shop for trees during the holidays.

“I believe in second shifts a lot, and I feel like it’s a really cool thing to give people who had limited employment opportunities a chance,” said Lassor. “It’s wonderful to support them.

Contact Teri Errico Griffis at 843-849-3144.


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