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There are no price tags at this Christmas tree farm, where donations help fight pediatric cancer

Angel Tree Farms Happy Holidays.jpg
Stephanie Sigafoos
A sign reading "Happy Holidays" is set up for family photos at Angel Tree Farms in Alburtis. The fabricated letters came from a volunteer. No one who works there gets paid. And in short, "If you make a donation, you take a tree." All proceeds go to the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley.

ALBURTIS, Pa. — At a tranquil property just off Route 100, needles from Douglas firs crunched underfoot and filled the air with a piney, citrusy scent.

One truck of Christmas trees had just been offloaded, and more were coming in right behind it.

“We have another 75 tomorrow morning, another 75 Wednesday morning and another 75 on Nov. 27th. Between auction and what we’re picking up now, that should put us around 360 trees,” Bill Paules, owner and president of Angel Tree Farms, said Sunday afternoon.

Paules’ pug, Kevin (named after the main character from “Home Alone”), happily inspected each tree, running off with branches as he zig-zagged between the rows.

“It’s pretty crazy considering this is only year four,” Paules said, as the festive energy of the holiday season arrived in the crisp air blowing over the 3 ½ acres of land.

But this tree farm is just a little bit different.

Angel Tree Farms Kevin.jpg
Stephanie Sigafoos
Kevin, the unofficial mascot of Angel Tree Farms. He's named after Kevin McCallister, the main character in the holiday film "Home Alone."

“We don’t just sell the trees. There’s no price tags. It’s all donation-based,” Paules said. “You give what you can give.”

Those six words describe the mission of Angel Tree Farms, where 100% of donations go to the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley.

"We don’t just sell the trees. There’s no price tags. It’s all donation-based. You give what you can give."
Bill Paules, owner of Angel Tree Farms

“Obviously, we want people to give as much as they can. But we don't judge if people don't have the money,” Paules said.

Beginning Nov. 25, the gates are open for the cherished family tradition of picking out a real tree, tying it to the roof of the car and driving it home. But it’s also a space to feel the joy of the season while lessening the burdens of families battling pediatric cancer.

Angel Tree Farms offers that, and a whole lot more.

“We have at least 15 trees that get donated to PCFLV,” Paules said. “We also are working this year for the first time with Alburtis Community Center. We're doing an adopt-a-tree program with them, and we’re doing the same thing with South Whitehall Township. That’s a first this year, and there were a lot of things that happened, and things are evolving and changing.”

Paules – a man of many words once you get him talking – finally paused.

“This whole thing has become bigger than me. Way bigger than me.”

Growing holiday traditions

Angel Tree Farms Davis Family.jpg
Stephanie Sigafoos
Field one at Angel Tree Farms has been dedicated to the Davis Family. "Nevin Davis Sr. and his family have been vital to Angel Tree Farms from the start," owner Bill Paules said.

Across the Lehigh Valley, some pick-and-cut tree farms will price 5-to-8 foot trees at $70 or more. Those taller than 8 feet will run more than $80.

Angel Tree Farms is the one place you can pivot away from the task of searching rows of trees typically tagged and color-coded by what they’ll cost.

“Two years ago, we had a woman who walked around and looked at the trees. I bet you it was 25 minutes. She kept walking around and was just looking at the trees, but she was just keeping to herself,” Paules said.

“At one point my wife said, ‘Is there something I can help you with?’ And the woman said, ‘I'm not seeing any prices on any of the trees.’ And what it boiled down to was she didn't know if she could afford it.”

Paules looked out across the field, perhaps envisioning the upcoming weekends where the midday sun will shine warm and bright, with people meandering among the evergreens, looking for the perfect tree.

For the first time, kids can scamper about between newly fabricated letters that read “Happy Holidays” (perfect for family photos) or wait anxiously to visit Santa (who has his own shed and new furniture on the property).

With the generosity of so many, Angel Tree Farms will only put a price where it’s absolutely necessary.

“We had a whole skid of tree stands that were given to us upfront at no cost, but to discuss payment afterwards. So we're going to put a price on those, but it's going to be a discounted price,” Paules said. “Any tree over 10 feet, we have to put a set price on it because it costs so much.”

An hour before this conversation, Paules had just come from a tree auction that set record highs on prices this year.

“It was an eye opener for me,” he said. “I went with X amount of dollars and had a number that I was willing to spend. And I ended up going over that and had to add some additional funds to make it happen because the prices just were much higher.”

Growing generosity

Angel Tree Farms Back Field.jpg
Stephanie Sigafoos
A field of trees growing at Angel Tree Farms in Alburtis. “Eventually we'd like to add in, you know, pick your own, where we can go out and maybe 20 a year, you can pick your own tree and we'll cut it down for you," said owner Bill Paules.

Running a tree farm — especially a nonprofit version — is not exactly the type of scenario Paules envisioned in 2019, when he and his wife, Karen, pulled money from a retirement fund to purchase the lot behind their home.

“Honestly, it’s because I didn’t want the land developed,” Paules said. “So we bought it and then you just think about it. ‘Okay, well I gotta get a mower big enough to do it.’ So I buy a mower and then I'm sitting out here mowing and it takes 2 hours and 28 minutes, so you have time to do some thinking.”

Those roughly 2 ½ hours changed the future of those 3 ½ acres.

“So I'm out here ripping around, mowing. And I'm thinking to myself, ‘It'd be really cool to have some Christmas trees in the family. You know, our family and our close friends could come up here and they could do the whole experience of doing a tree, but not where they're going to pay an arm and a leg to get a tree. It'd be cool if we could do a little thing out here, in exchange for a donation that would help someone at Christmas.' And that was the first idea.”

The following year, a local business owner handed Paules a check and said, “Go buy some trees.” In 2020, Angel Tree Farms opened one day, the week before Christmas, where 23 trees were handed out, including seven to families financially affected by COVID.

Donations that year totaled $1,000. The following year, gifts from local businesses were enough to get 80 pre-cut trees and donations totaled $5,000. And last year was their highest-grossing year, with 165 trees for a donation totaling $11,000.

The community has “completely jumped in,” Paules said.

“What we're doing is we have a lot of fun. Everybody that's here is a volunteer. We don't pay anybody, I don't get paid. This is a hobby more than anything, I have a full-time job.”

"What we're doing is we have a lot of fun. Everybody that's here is a volunteer."
Bill Paules, owner of Angel Tree Farms

Angel Tree Farms Trees.jpg
Stephanie Sigafoos
Christmas trees at Angel Tree Farms in Alburtis. The farm is donation-based and there are no price tags on the trees. If you make a donation, you take a tree. 100% of donations made go to the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley.

The Paules family also is growing trees on the property, with approximately 130 still alive in three different sections.

“We have some Douglas fir, we have some Fraser, we have some Balsam and we had some Norway," Paules said.

"To keep a tree alive to the point of harvest is really, really difficult. And I walked into this not really knowing anything. So we’ve learned a lot each year, but lose a lot, unfortunately.”

Patience is essential in growing generosity. It usually takes at least seven years before the trees are tall enough to sell. And not all of them are destined for family rooms or foyers. Misshapen trees must be carefully pruned and sheared for the desired symmetry. All of it is done by hand.

“Eventually we'd like to add in, you know, pick your own, where we can go out and maybe 20 a year, you can pick your own tree and we'll cut it down for you.

“There's always things that have to be done,” Paules said, whether now or in the future. But the work itself is the reward.

“This time of the year, man, oh man, when you see a kid smile when they see Santa, or they're getting a tree and they're excited about Christmas time…there is nothing better than seeing someone else's joy. It's incredible. And it's infectious.”