YMCA Club Takes Pride in Tree Lot Service

Photos by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader Burbank YMCA Service Club volunteers Nicole Bigos and Roger Koll prepare a fir tree following a sale at the Christmas tree lot. Funds raised at the lot support the nonprofit.

First published in the Dec. 4, 2021, print issue of the Burbank Leader.

From the tree lot to the car, the process took just a few minutes.

Once the tree was selected, two red-clad Burbank YMCA Service Club volunteers hauled the fir from the tent on the nonprofit’s parking lot to the workshop area just outside. One quickly sawed off a piece of the tree’s trunk. Then the pair loaded it onto a “horse” — a machine that shook the soon-to-be Christmas tree to rattle off the loose pine needles — before removing it and wrapping it in netting. Finally, a worker hammered on a plastic and rebar base before loading it atop the buyer’s vehicle.

And off it went.

The Burbank YCMA’s annual Christmas tree lot, which raises funds for the organization, has returned after a brief hiatus in 2020. It has also returned to its place of origin; while George Washington Elementary School hosted the event in recent years, it is once again located on the YMCA parking lot. Service club volunteers prepare, sell and load trees daily through Dec. 19, working from noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

”For me, it’s like coming back home,” said volunteer Jacques Volpei. He’s worked at the tree lot for decades, often seen with his red “Ys Men’s Club” shirt — a nod to the original name of the YMCA Service Club. His granddaughter, Nicole Bigos, also works at the lot.
A couple of things are absent from this year’s offerings. The tree lot isn’t offering its customary flocking service, and the towering firs sold to churches and businesses — and even longer ago, to studios like Warner Bros. and Disney — wouldn’t have fit in the tented area. But there some new components. Maggie Hall, a member of a quilting group at the Joslyn Adult Center, donated quilts for the YMCA Service Club volunteers to sell.

Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader Burbank YMCA Service Club volunteer Jacques Volpei stands alongside his granddaughter and fellow volunteer Nicole Bigos. Volpei has volunteered with the club since the 1960s, when it was founded as the Ys Men’s Club.

Proceeds from the tree lot sales go to the Burbank YCMA. Longtime volunteer Roger Koll, who is also the board chairman of the Burbank Temporary Aid Center, said that revenue varies from year to year — giving $20,000 as a very rough baseline — but that the service club has raised more than $1 million since it started selling trees in the 1960s.

“[The YMCA is] an important organization within the city of Burbank,” Koll said. “We help everyone, from the infants to the seniors, and that appeals to me because you’re helping the entire community.”

The service club supports the nonprofit year round, holding holiday fundraisers, repainting its facility’s rooms and otherwise responding to the organization’s requests for assistance. Members also provide goods for other charitable groups such as the Burbank Coordinating Council and the Burbank Housing Corporation.

And while the club’s membership has decreased during the pandemic — from about 30 members to roughly 14 — many of those who remain are longtime workers.

“There’s that joy of service,” said Carolyn English, Burbank YMCA Service Club president. “We get along well, we work hard, we enjoy the work and we know that we’re doing good in the community, because the money that we raise goes right back into the community.”

Similarly, many of the families coming to the tree lot are repeat customers. Burbank resident Henrik Torossian, who purchased a tree this week, said he’s been coming for five years. He praised the volunteers for answering questions from his two children, who picked the tree after some discussion.

“Their customer service is bar none,” Torossian said. “They know what they’re doing and … they let my kids have the experience.”

Once his two sons selected their tree, the service club volunteers got to work. They shook off the loose needles, wrapped it in netting and loaded it on the roof of Torossian’s SUV. Torossian stood nearby, embracing his children as they waited.
A few of the volunteers watched the family moment. That, one said, is what the service is about.