The hunt is on for Riley-Jo Peltier as the 12-year-old girl from Grand Haven searches alongside her parents, Kathy-Jo and Jay, for the perfect Christmas Tree to put in her room.
“Decorating a Christmas tree is a big part of our family tradition and stuff like that,” said Jay. “It’s just fun.”
Riley’s family is one of 21 in West Michigan who received a free Christmas tree and lights Saturday courtesy of Duane Young and his crew.
“40 different people gave us 40 different trees, no questions asked,” said Young.
Young says this summer he and his two children began collecting new and gently used artificial trees from their Coopersville family and friends with the intent to donate them to families with special needs children this holiday season.
“We thought there was a void for kids with special needs, being able to go out with their family, and being able to enjoy the tradition of getting a tree,” said Young. “We were hoping that this would fill that void and create some memories.”
Travanda Payton-D’Oyly’s son, seven-year-old Kayden, is autistic. She says people often lack empathy when they go out, which makes traditions like this difficult.
“It’s hard to take him places cause people, they don’t understand what’s going on,” said Payton-D’Oyly.
However, she says her family found that understanding Sunday, allowing them to pick out a tree together for the first time.
“It was something where we can get him out of the house, more exposure to things for him,” said Payton-D’Oyly. “It was great, it was really great.”
With the trees in tow now, the mission moves ahead with each family focused on decorating and eager to spend Christmas alongside their loved ones.
“I think it’s something we’ll always remember what we did,” said Kathy-Jo. “We came out here during COVID and 2020, the year that we never forget, and this is the tree that she’ll always have in remembrance of that.”
There are leftover trees. Families interested can email the young family at firstname.lastname@example.org