Josh Shaffer

Shaffer: This year’s tree triumph triggers Christmas charity

Joe Lux carries a fresh tree on his Christmas tree lot Wednesday in Cary, N.C.
Joe Lux carries a fresh tree on his Christmas tree lot Wednesday in Cary, N.C.

Last December, a Cary landscaper named Joe Lux decided to give away a small forest of Christmas trees – an act of yuletide charity brought on partially by his oversized heart, but also by sales flatter than leftover champagne.

His first try at selling Fraser firs by the roadside flopped, losing him thousands of dollars. Left with a lot full of unbought trees, he posted a sign at his lot along Chapel Hill Road:

“Please Help Yourself.”

He figured, having such a bad start in the holiday tree business, that he was finished. But so many people remembered his gesture and urged him into another go that Lux and his wife, Lynnette, have once again opened their tree stand – and with gangbuster results.

Having enjoyed a festive 180-degree turnaround since last year, Lux plans to give away a tree for every three he sells – about 40 altogether. And he’d like some help picking.

Lux family members are looking for the most deserving tree recipients, and they’re taking nominations. It can be you. It can be your mother. It can be your trash collector. Whoever is neediest or most deserving need look no futher for a Fraser. Send all nominations to

“I’m just asking you to be honest,” Lux said. “If someone sends me an email, I’ll go by their word. If you can afford a tree, buy one, and let someone who can’t afford it have one. I’m giving away as many trees as I sold last year.”

By the most recent count I could find, North Carolina produces more than 4.2 million real Christmas trees a year – second only to Oregon. And they cost, on average, depending on the size, about 40 bucks. A lot of us with iPads and Fitbits and wearables – whatever they are – can’t imagine times being so tough that a simple tree is out of reach.

But Lux told me one of his free-tree recipients last year told him she could afford only her daughter’s new shirt and shoes, not a $40 fir to place them under. The Helping Hand Mission never has a problem with empty tables for its holiday dinners, and I can’t remember a time when they didn’t need donated coats and toys over there.

I picked one up myself last year and gave it to Nettie Grove, an 85-year-old widow I once wrote about in Southeast Raleigh. If I were to suggest someone I’ve met this year, I’d go with Joanmarie Maniscalco, whose North Raleigh produce stand got robbed; Latisha Anderson, a registered nurse who works from a wheelchair; or Tom Richardson and Rob Frohlking, homeless men who started a T-shirt company.

There must be thousands more. Send nominations to Lux. He’ll pick names from a hat and announce them next week. Remember the people who, like Charlie Brown’s scraggly tree, could use a little botanical love.