Community effort in Oceanside sends Christmas trees to those who serve overseas

OCEANSIDE — Local police departments, veterans, schools, and community members gathered together Monday for the 15th annual “DHL Operation Holiday Cheer.” The tradition began after Dees Nursery and Florist got a special request back in 2004.

“A mom came into Dees’ right at the beginning of the War on Terror, asked my dad at the register right inside if he could send a Christmas tree to her son who was just recently deployed,” explained Dees Nursery co-owner Joe DiDominica.

The charitable program not only delivers Christmas trees, but letters, menorahs, decorations, and gifts to U.S. servicemen and women in Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Bahrain who cannot spend the holidays at home with their loved ones.

“When you surround yourself with kind people, you can move any mountain, you can do anything you put your mind to,” said DHL Express Manager of Commercial Air Aviation Cathy O’Reilly.

The celebratory send-off began with a formal ceremony and was then followed by a motorcade from the Oceanside nursery to John F. Kennedy International Airport, where the items would be loaded onto an aircraft at the DHL Gateway facility.

“We are free Americans, and that freedom is earned for you by children like our son, and all of the other sons and daughters that never made it home,” said Marion Zilinski, mother of fallen soldier Lt. Dennis Zilinski.

The shipment of items took off in the evening, first on a quick flight from New York to a DHL Hub in Cincinnati.

The Christmas trees are expected to arrive in the Middle East by Wednesday morning.