Non-profit tree lot carries on the tradition
Every day is Christmas at the Winnipeg Y Service Club tree lot.
“Our Christmas starts when the trees arrive,” said longtime volunteer Brad McKay, 67.
For the past 43 years, a group of steadfast volunteers have run the East Kildonan not-for-profit operation. But now, a new generation of helpers has stepped in to continue the tradition.
“This is the new guard,” McKay said of his successors. “The enthusiasm is remarkable.”
McKay said the not-for-profit’s priority has always been and continues to be giving back to the community while selling top-quality products.
“We don’t fool around here,” McKay said.
Volunteers unloaded the first round of trees — an abundance of balsam fir, Fraser fir and scotch pine — on Nov. 25. A shipment of Manitoba-raised spruce was on its way at press time. The lot, located at 454 Kimberly Ave., will remain open while supplies last.
All proceeds from tree sales go back into the community. The initiative donates to a number of local charities including Harvest Manitoba, the Christmas Cheer Board, Make-A-Wish Canada and CancerCare Manitoba. The lot also donates directly to those in need.
For McKay, seeing firsthand the not-for-profit’s positive impact has brought him back each holiday season for three decades.
“This is very important to me,” he said. “When I give a cheque to a kid or a family it’s incredibly intoxicating because you’re helping.”
The Winnipeg Y Service Club tree lot gives scholarships to students from four area high schools: Elmwood High School, Kildonan East Collegiate, Miles Macdonell Collegiate and River East Collegiate.
McKay has worked at schools across the River East School Division, primarily teaching special education and resource programs.
The lot’s proceeds also help pay for supplies that make a big difference in the lives of students. Tree lot money set students up with musical instruments for band or sneakers for gym class. Funds have also helped families cover the basics, like groceries.
“We’re small, but we’re big — we’re big for the community,” McKay said.
Colin McDougall, 41, has volunteered for the tree lot for the past 12 years. Like many, he got his start unloading the trees — a one-off gig to help out a friend — and never left.
“We’re seeing generations of families coming to buy their trees here,” McDougall said. “We all believe in the message. That’s why we’re all here.”
Mike Wahl, 39, is another second-generation volunteer. His father co-founded the lot in 1979. The Winnipeg Y Service Club is one of the few remaining groups of its kind in western Canada. Many service clubs have folded due to a decline in volunteers.
“It’s what, I think, the old guys might say is a fun and honourable tradition,” Wahl said. “I was running around here as a little kid, chasing my brother around.”
The lot is open Mon. to Friday, 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., Sat. from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Go to the Winnipeg Y Service Club Facebook page for more information.
Katlyn Streilein was a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review.