Love Light Tree
To make a Love Light donation, call 770-219-1830 or visit www.nghs.com/lovelight.
Ordinarily, when donors make a contribution to Northeast Georgia Medical Center Auxiliary's Love Light Tree campaign, they're purchasing a light, star or angel decoration in memory of a loved one.
Melvin and Bobbie Thomas have decided to donate the entire tree, in honor of the men and women serving in the armed forces.
"As a veteran, I have sympathy for them," said Melvin Thomas, a Gainesville resident.
In 1952, Melvin Thomas was a young soldier, far from his Hall County home, fighting in the Korean War.
Although letters from home were always nice, one in particular planted a seed for a harvest that Thomas is still benefitting from today.
"I was in combat in North Korea and my dad wrote me a letter that said, ‘Son, this adjoining farm is getting ready to be for sale. I think it might be reasonable,'" Melvin Thomas remembers.
"He went to the sale and bid it off for me. I wasn't making but $80 a month in the Army back then - and that was combat pay - but I would send him a $80 check every month. Before long I had it paid off."
After returning home, he went about setting up his farm, where he raised cattle and grew a few crops.
About 20 years ago, the North Hall couple decided to devote 5 acres of their land for a Christmas tree farm.
"It was a lot of fun for a while," Bobbie Thomas said.
"You get to meet a lot of interesting people," Melvin Thomas added.
"Families would come and the kids would help saw it down. It was nice.
"If you find a person that can't hardly afford a tree, well you give them one. It makes your day."
After retiring, the twice-yearly pruning schedule for the acres of trees became too much, so the couple sold most of the remaining trees and abandoned the seasonal business.
They kept a few of the original plantings, including the eastern red cedar tree they're donating to the medical center, where they have collectively volunteered for more than a decade.
The Thomas' tree will be harvested next week and replanted at the Gainesville hospital where it will be decorated and used as the centerpiece of the 2011 Love Light campaign.
Love Light is the auxiliary's annual fundraiser, which benefits Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center. Although donations are accepted all year long, the center hosts a tree lighting ceremony in early December each year to celebrate the campaign's progress.
This year's lighting ceremony is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 5 in the Auxiliary Love Light Garden at the North Tower entrance to the hospital.
"We've attended lots of Love Light celebrations," Bobbie Thomas said. "It's a special event. The money they raise goes to a good cause, so that makes you feel good."
"We always look forward to them," Melvin Thomas added.
The couple is happily anticipating something else - donating another Love Light tree.
"I have a Norway spruce that I set out maybe 12 years ago," Melvin Thomas said.
"They're beautiful, but they grow very slowly. About a foot or two a year. It's about 20 feet tall now, so in another five years, they'll have a real nice one to use for Love Light."