Christmas tree sales benefit addiction recovery ministry

Proceeds from two Christmas tree lots in Manatee County are helping people who are recovering from addiction. The trees recently caused Edward Bryant and his girlfriend, who were passing by, to stop. 

"We noticed the trees here and we noticed signs that mentioned Jesus," Bryant said. "We wanted to stop by here."

Once out of the car, the men who were working on the lot gave them another reason to buy a Christmas tree. Their faces don't give it away, but each man working there has carried his own struggles. 

"This is our biggest fundraiser to help get men off the street and overcome addiction," said Keith Stolte. 

Stolte is the program director for the Palmetto branch of Loving Hands Ministries. He said those addictions include opioids, alcohol and other vices. 

Stolte explained that 100 percent of profits from the Christmas tree lot help out Loving Hands Ministries and their group, Save Our Sons. 

"The men come out here, get to give back and help out. They learn how to trim the trees, cut branches. They make wreaths," said Stolte. 

Money from sales put men like Christopher Reif through a two-year faith-based recovery program for free. 

"The last 14 years I’ve been involved in a gang. This has been a nurturing environment. It’s taken me out of an environment that I needed to be taken out of. It's a family environment, and, to me, that’s what I didn’t have as a child," Reif explained. 

With each tree or wreath sold, a second chance is earned. 

"Every tree that is bought furthers my relationship along with the ministry of Jesus. For me, it saved my salvation and I am thankful for that," Reif said.

Trees can be purchased at 2900 U.S. Highway 301 North in Ellenton, or 6502 14th Street Wwest Bradenton in front of Bayshore Church. The lots are open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 9 p.m.