Tree Land at St. Vincent de Paul is open for business through Dec. 29 at Northland Mall in Appleton, but as store manager Mike Holzknecht explains, the store started almost by accident.
In 2015, he volunteered at the Christmas Store, which also is operated by SVdP and currently is adjacent to Tree Land. Holzknecht, who retired from operations management in the construction industry, assembled and displayed donated artificial Christmas trees.
He said there was not a lot of space in the back room to work, so he asked Angie Walker, the Northland Mall property manager, if he could use some of the space across the hall from the Christmas Store as a staging area to set up the trees. Walker agreed, so he began to assemble the trees there.
He was surprised at the interest his project generated.
“At one point I had 10 or 12 Christmas trees set up in the window and shoppers were peeking in there and wanted to buy them,” he said. “They looked pretty good.”
Walker then asked him if he would like a dedicated office space to sell the trees. He spoke with the managers at SVdP, who gave the thumbs up.
Walker said the arrangement has worked out well.
“There are a lot of people who come in and purchase trees for less fortunate people,” she said. “If you know of a family that isn’t able to go out and buy a tree, the ones here are so reasonable priced. With the Christmas Store right next store, you can go in and buy a bag of ornaments for $3.”
Holzknecht said the partnership was destined to be.
“By purchasing items from the Christmas Store and Tree Land, you support St. Vincent de Paul’s mission of helping people in need in our community,” he said. “The bottom line is what we give back to the community. The SVdP mission is to provide assistance to the poor and our message is justice and compassion.”
Last year, SVdP assisted more than 9,000 individuals in the areas of housing and basic needs, such as groceries, utilities and transportation. The agency also provides furniture, housewares and clothing for people in the community who are facing poverty.
Holzknecht said that by having a larger display area for the merchandise, it has increased sales.
Kristen Trimberger, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul Appleton, said they are thankful for the donated space.
“St. Vincent de Paul Appleton is incredibly grateful for the generosity of Northland Mall in providing us rent-free spaces for our Christmas Store and Tree Land,” she said. “Their gift allows us to allocate more money to helping our neighbors in need each year during the holidays.”
Tree Land features artificial pine, spruce and fir Christmas trees, including six remote-controlled, 64-function, flocked LED artificial Christmas trees.
“This year, I received a donation of 50 brand new, in-the-box artificial Christmas trees from a special donor,” Holzknecht said. “We have pine trees, spruce and fir trees from 12 inches to 9 feet tall. Some have white lights, some are multicolored, some have no lights and some are flocked.”
The store also stocks wreaths, garland, large outdoor decorations, porch displays, lighted Santa displays, snowmen, angels, candles and large outside Christmas lights that hang on bushes. The community has donated all the merchandise.
More volunteers are needed to help assemble and display trees in Tree Land. When trees are sold, volunteers place them in boxes, put them on a cart and place them in customers’ vehicles at the curb.
Erica Siewert, volunteer coordinator at St. Vincent de Paul, said Tree Land and the Christmas Store could not open its doors or run all season without the hard work of many dedicated volunteers. About three dozen volunteers work at both stores. Last year, volunteers contributed a combined total of 14,896 hours working at the Christmas Store and Tree Land.
St. Vincent de Paul staff and volunteers do a great job in making a place for everyone there, according to Carol Bloemer, RSVP director.
“In the past year, 12 RSVP members have served 1,141 hours at St. Vincent de Paul,” Bloemer said. “RSVP and St. Vincent de Paul have a longstanding relationship. Since RSVP started in Outagamie County in 1998, 38 RSVP volunteers have provided 17,192 hours of service.”
To volunteer at Tree Land, contact Erica at 920-739-1679, ext. 4, or volunteer@