Pacelli pick-me-up

Published 1:31 pm Saturday, January 10, 2009

The sales, the new year, the crumpled wrapping paper: all signs that the holiday season has come to an end, yet perhaps the ultimate symbol of the Christmas’ passing is the naked tree, laying by the curb in the snow.

Yet for Pacelli High School, this symbol of the year has been a fundraising opportunity for the past 10 years. Volunteers in and around the school have been the only group in Austin to pick up the discarded Christmas trees, all for a free-will donation.

“It’s just a fundraiser for the school with the thinking of ways of keeping it going,” event organizer Keith Leif said Saturday morning.

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During Saturday’s joint effort among Pacelli, the Knights of Columbus and Triple J, the trees were collected by a fanning of the volunteers throughout Austin and then were collected centrally at St. Edward Catholic Church. From there and with help from Triple J, the trees will be hauled out to the Joe and Jackie Sheedy farm and burned.

Leif was a member of the school board when the idea was first raised and the idea just took to wheels after that, though not as smooth as the three-hour estimated job is this year. In its first year, the bulk of the work went throughout the day into early night and continued through the next week as more and more people came forward.

“When Keith started this, if I could have looked down from above, I thought, ‘what are you doing?’” said Pacelli development director Norm Blaser with a chuckle.

Money raised annually over the past 10 years has averaged between $1,000 and $2,000 with the highest amount collected at around $2,700.

However, over that time, a trend away from real to artificial trees has been noticeable. Leif estimated that last year they collected about 300 trees and said that the number could be about 100 less than that.

Still, the drive has been well worth the effort and there are plenty of volunteers —  “any Pacelli students and even people in the community who don’t go to the school,” Blaser said.

And through it all Leif has been the driving organizer behind the pick-up.

“Some people will start something and stay with it two years or so and then you have to find someone who will do it,” Blaser said. “Keith has stayed with this and it’s greatly appreciated.”