Back to: News
December 28, 2013
Follow News

Gift of tree helps Weld County flood victims have merry Christmas

When floodwaters rose in September, Milliken resident John Vega and his family found out what it was like to lose everything. This Christmas, they’ve found out what a simple act of kindness can do for those still reeling from the effects of the disaster.

The Gift of a Green Christmas Tree program, which provides Christmas trees and decorations to hundreds of Northern Colorado families each December, focused this year on helping victims of September’s flooding, including Vega and his family.

On the evening of Sept. 12, Vega remembers his neighbor coming to warn him and his family of the rising water near the trailer court on Josephine Avenue where he lived with his wife, Blanca, and two grandchildren, Isai and Cesia Rico.

He remembers the fire department evacuating everyone in his neighborhood, and the crowd of evacuees watching from higher ground as the water spilled into their homes.

“Sure enough the flood came,” Vega said. “The water just kept coming, going up higher and higher. There was three feet in my trailer, my home. By that time, all the people were looking down at the water. There was nothing you could do.”

Ten days later, Vega and his family were allowed to return to see what remained of their possessions and the home in which Vega has lived for 34 years.

“The house was already stinking,” Vega said. “All the clothes were soggy and everything smelled bad. We couldn’t save anything. We had to throw it all out.”

Vega said the family’s refrigerator and some of the other appliances were salvageable, but the family has had to buy a new stove, furniture and beds. They stayed with friends for almost two months, but returned to their home last month to make the home livable again.

“We’re putting things back together. I had to put in new flooring, new heating ducts and insulation myself,” Vega said. “Once I turned on the heat and water, we moved back in.”

Last week, volunteers from Gift of a Green Christmas Tree showed up at Vega’s home bearing gifts — a Christmas tree, a tree stand, lights and decorations. They came inside and met Vega and his family as his grandkids began decorating their Christmas tree in the family’s kitchen.

“We didn’t have anything. With all my words and all my heart, I just want to thank them for what they did for my grandson and granddaughter so they can feel Christmas,” Vega said. “God bless them, that they did this for everyone. Every Christmas there are people out there with needs. It helps out and makes you feel good. I hope they keep doing it.”

Ryan Behm, who started the Gift of a Green Christmas Tree program 11 years ago, said it donated 397 Christmas trees and decorations to Northern Colorado families on Dec. 7, with about a quarter of them going to families in Weld County.

He said this year was the first time the program included Greeley families.

“It’s about making a difference for one family and brightening up their Christmas, and about the volunteers that got to share in that, as well,” Behm said. “It’s a chance to brighten Christmas for someone. That’s pretty powerful.”

The program rounded up more than 200 volunteers to help with donations this year, a feat that Behm said isn’t as hard as it may seem. He said many people jump at the chance to participate and many volunteers return to help again each year.

“People always tell me how much good it’s doing for the families, but I think the volunteers get just as much out of this program,” Behm said. “We have a number of people that repeat every year and keep coming back for more. It’s turned into a holiday event for them and their family.”

Behm said the program is always very emotional for all involved. He said what keeps him coming back each year is when families tell him that he doesn’t know how much the donations mean to them.

“I don’t know what Christmas means for everyone, but when I’m told that I don’t know what it means for someone, it must be making a difference,” he said. “Christmas is the happiest time of the year. To be able to make people a little happier, that’s what it’s all about.”

Vega also thanked numerous other organizations that helped him and his family in the days and weeks following the flood, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross, United Way of Weld County and the Salvation Army.

“I thank God that we’re alive and made it through to this day with all the help we got,” Vega said. “All I can say is ‘thank you’ to everyone for what they did for us.”


Explore Related Articles

Trending in: News

My Windsor Now Updated Dec 28, 2013 05:33PM Published Jan 2, 2014 11:48PM Copyright 2014 My Windsor Now. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.