For many people, getting their Christmas tree at the Wilshire Rotary lot is a neighborhood tradition. The tree lot is a community effort operated by members of the Wilshire Rotary as way to raise money for the service organization’s charitable works locally and around the world.
The tree lot opened in 2007. At the time, Rotarians Scot Clifford and his wife Wendy were inspired by a parent at their daughter’s school who for many years successfully operated and still operates Tina’s Trees, a Christmas tree lot in the San Fernando Valley. She agreed to mentor Clifford to get him started. Fellow Rotarian Bill Ahmanson provided the space, and the Cliffords opened that fall with a pumpkin patch to promote the soon-to-follow Christmas Tree lot. The rest, as they say, is history.
As if selling premium trees to the local community (though customers come from all over the city), wasn’t enough, Clifford also donates trees to local charities. Last weekend, the lot donated dozens of trees to the Salvation Army for families in need.
“I am always looking for people who need a tree,” Clifford told the Buzz. “I want the trees to end up in someone’s house for the holidays.”
The lot also annually hosts visually impaired students from nearby France Blend Special Education Center at Van Ness Elementary School, offering the students sensory learning and fun activities on the tree lot for Christmas and the pumpkin patch around Halloween. We were there the other day when lot manager Diane Aldahl, part of the Clifford family, was tying sprigs of evergreen branches with ribbons and bells for students to take home as gifts. Last weekend volunteers from the Wilshire Rotary and the Lions Club “battled” over who could donate the most to the Salvation Army. There’s always something going on at the lot once it opens in early December, kicking off with the Larchmont Boulevard’s Holiday Open House when Santa Claus welcomes visitors to the lot.
But real magic of the Christmas tree lot is what happens every year with the people who staff the lot. Shortly after he started the lot, Clifford realized he couldn’t run it with only volunteers and family members, so he started looking for staff. When we interviewed Clifford four years ago, he told us how a fellow Rotarian approached him about hiring formerly incarcerated individuals to work on the lot. Clifford said he was initially reluctant, but he decided to give it a try. And he’s glad he did.
Clifford told us this year that he considers hiring these individuals one of the most consequential things he’s been able to do with the lot. Most, if not all, of the employees he’s had over the years have gone on to get full-time work. Many still come back working nights and weekends to help out and mentor the new staff who are working on the lot for the first time.
“For many of these guys, and it’s mostly guys, rarely do we see women come through the program, this is the first time they have been able get work,” explained Clifford. “This job helps them get the next job and get started rebuilding their life.”
Working with the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s Center for Restorative Justice and Amity Foundation, Clifford said he hires between 6-12 new people every year, and he’s found that employing these individuals has become “the most important aspect of the operation now.” And he has collected dozens of success stories…like the gentleman who served 38 years in prison, then came to work with Clifford. He earned an Associates Degree and now has a full time job, but he still does maintenance on the lot during the off season.
Clifford is deeply thankful that his idea to help make money for his favorite charities has turned into a business that helps give people a chance to start a new life. He’s convinced there’s something magical about the lot and the trees.
If you don’t have a tree yet and want to support a great local charity that’s really giving back to the community, there are still many of premium trees available at the Wilshire Rotary Christmas tree lot. It’s open from 9 am – 9 pm every day through December 24th.
About Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.
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