The giant Christmas tree that decorated Rockefeller Square in New York City this December is coming down, and it’s headed back to the neighborhood it came from to be used for homes built by Habitat for Humanity. After dazzling more than half a million visitors and New Yorkers with its lights and decorations, it’s going to be milled into lumber just like any other tree and donated to the non-profit as construction material.
Every year since construction workers erected a 20-foot-high blasam fir in the middle of the plaza, decorated with homemade garlands in 1931, the Rockefeller Center has lit up downtown Manhattan at Christmas time. These days, the tree is a donated Norway Spruce measuring at least 75 feet tall and 45 feet in diameter, and goes on to be used as lumber for homes when the season is over.
Last year’s tree is still being used in the construction of five homes in Philadelphia, reports the Associated Press. This is the ninth year in a row that a Rockefeller Christmas tree will be used for homes after the company that owns and manages Rockefeller Center donates it to Habitat for Humanity.
Lumber from Rockefeller Center trees have been used for Habitat homes in Pascagoula, Mississippi; New York City; Stamford, Connecticut; and Newburgh, New York. Past projects have included shelving in affordable multi-family housing units, a single family home, and the rebuilding of a home for a victim of Hurricane Katrina. Habitat homeowner Iveth Bowie
“People probably say, ‘It’s done; the tree is gone.’ But not for our family.”
Bowie and her family helped build their home in Connecticut’s Fairfield County using lumber from a Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in 2010.
“For our family, it’s more than a tree. It’s hope. It used to be a nest for birds, but now it’s going to be a nest for me, for my family,” she said.
More lumber is used to build a home than even the 10-ton tree donated this year can provide, said Chris Clarke, vice president of marketing and communications for Habitat. But, the gift is important because of the tree’s significance in American culture.
“The gift of the tree helps remind people there are a lot of folks who need a hand up,” Clarke said.
“The holidays are generally a big time for any nonprofit to raise funds, so we do see a spike and I believe firmly that the story of the tree helps,” he added.
Affordable housing is on the minds of people across the United States this winter. According to Habitat for Humanity, worldwide, 827.6 million people live in urban slums and that number is on the rise. When people have access to affordable housing, research shows that they can become healthier and more productive.
The cost of rents is rising throughout the United States, reports The Huffington Post, even as the number of renters is rising. This creates a dangerous dynamic which puts young people at risk for lifelong problems, including underemployment and teen pregnancy.
Habitat for Humanity and others have appealed to congress to increase affordable housing funding through programs like the Home Investment Partnerships Program, which has been used to build and preserve nearly 1.2 million affordable homes and provided rental assistance to 270,000 families at risk of homelessness since 1992.
When the lumber from the Rockefeller Center tree is used in a home, each family receives a special piece etched with a small Christmas tree and the year the donated tree came from to put on display. For new home owner Pamela Banks, whose Philadelphia home will contain lumber from the 2014 tree, displaying this piece of American history in her home will be the “whipped cream on top of the pie” of having her own home, she said.
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]