Idea started in 2014 when Mike and Debbi Sanchez gave away 10 trees and bags of ornaments

Published in the December 20 – January 2, 2018 issue of Morgan Hill Life

From left, Chad Haygood, Mark Salcido and Steve Stratton put a stand on one of 150 pine trees donated during the holiday season. Photo by Marty Cheek

Debbi and Mike Sanchez and a team of 25 One Giving Tree volunteers made this year’s holiday season extra merry for 150 families in Gilroy, Morgan Hill and San Benito County. Among them was Elisa Tellez and her two daughters. The Gilroy family received a donated Christmas tree complete with a bag of ornaments to deck the boughs.

“I’m extremely happy for the tree for my two daughters,” Tellez said in Spanish as her friend Priseilla Chavez translated. “It’s going to be the first time we’ll have a Christmas tree since my daughters have been born.”

Her two daughters are a freshman and a sophomore in high school. The Tellezes and other families were selected by nonprofit social services organizations Community Solutions and Rebekah Children’s Services to receive the free live trees, which range in height from a couple of feet tall to six feet. Tellez picked her tree up at the Community Solutions parking lot Monday, Dec. 4. Other trees were delivered that day to homes by volunteers.

“It’s a small gift, but it’s an enormous gesture that the agency has provided so that families can spend time together and be united around the tree,” she said. “The reason we got this tree was because of my daughters and our situation. In all honesty, I’m really excited because we’ve never had a tree.”

A bag filled with ornaments to decorate a tree.

The program got its birth in November 2014 when the Sanchezes found themselves with an unusual Yuletide problem, Mike recalled

“We ended up with 10 trees that nobody wanted. My first thought was there were 10 families that could use some help with a tree,” he said. “But then it went beyond that. I didn’t want to just give them a Christmas tree, but a complete kit where they wouldn’t have to worry about anything. And that’s how One Giving Tree got started.”

The families receiving the trees also get a green bag filled with ornaments. The trees are attached to a simple wooden stand, and a liquid-free hydration kit is provided.

Monday, Dec. 4, the One Giving Tree crew of about 20 people caravanned in pickup trucks to the Patchen Christmas Tree Farm in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

They spent an hour cutting down 150 trees and loading them into the beds of the trucks as well as piling them on a long trailer one driver had towed to the site.

From left, Chad Haygood, Mark Salcido and Steve Stratton put a stand on one of 150 pine trees donated during the holiday season. Photo by Marty Cheek

About noon in a corner of the Community Solutions parking lot, they set up a well-organized system. The trees were trimmed, and a stand attached to the base. Waiting on the side were lines of green bags filled with an assortment of decorations.

After the job was done, the volunteers enjoyed a pizza lunch to celebrate. Mike made a short speech to the crew to let them know how important the endeavor is to the South Valley’s quality of life:

“I want kids to feel normal when they go to school and talk about their tree and how it smells and all the good stuff about Christmas. We’re making the holidays bright, and we’re building good memories.”

Perhaps, he told the crew, a decade or so from now the children whose families received Christmas trees from the community will consider the positive memories from the experience and make the right life choices and share their time and energy helping the next generation of children.

“At the very least you have a chance of making someone whole. One tree is not necessarily going to change the world but the message of what we’re trying to do just might,” Mike told the volunteers. “So, don’t take it too lightly that, hey, we’re giving away trees. We’re potentially helping our community and the rest of the world.”

One Giving Tree is a year-long endeavor.

“It takes ornaments to help fill the bags,” Debbi said. “The day after Christmas, Mike and I go out and hit as many stores as we can to get ornaments on sale at discounted prices.”

They encourage parents to work with their children to make ornaments for those families who receive the donated trees. The activity serves as a lesson in generosity, Debbi said. And nonprofit organizations also get involved. This year South County Tailwaggers volunteers donated tree toppers and tinsel to go on the trees.

In addition to donated ornaments, One Giving Tree also accepts financial help.


This year, it raised $5,000 to purchase the trees and other items. Among its partners were Pinnacle Bank, Heritage Bank, Old City Hall Restaurant, Rosso’s Furniture and Best Western.

Next year, One Giving Tree wants to provide 200 trees. People who want to donate can provide money through a PayPal account on the One Giving Tree website at

During the four years since it started, One Giving Tree has grown so much that Debbi and Mike Sanchez plan to turn it into a nonprofit. Next year, they will recruit a board of directors. The reward for the involvement is the satisfaction of making the holidays extra special for a family in need.

“There are times when there’s not a dry eye among us because it hits you in a way where you know you’re building something great,” Debbi said. “We want to build a memory for a kid when he or she is grown up and the hope is that that kid can take those memories and build a productive life, and that he or she gives back at some point. We want to give people a blessing so they have a real traditional Christmas with the smell of the tree and having your presents under the tree — that’s something that’s really huge.”


Robert Airoldi

Robert Airoldi

Robert Airoldi is the editor of Morgan Hill Life newspaper. If you have a story idea or an Around Town column item you want to tell him about, you can reach him at (408) 427-5865 or at
Robert Airoldi