TOWNSEND -- Over the past three weeks, the proverbial pine forest that has been standing in the lot behind the Townsend Common has slowly dwindled as residents have come to pick up their Christmas tree from the Townsend Lions Club's annual sale.
By noon on Saturday, only 30 trees remained of the rows of evergreens, which, the day after Thanksgiving, had counted 300 in number.
The annual sale has been taking place for over a decade, said John Duval, president of the Townsend Lions Club, and they get a lot of repeat customers from the community. Part of the reason the club has so much success is that it tries to keep the trees below market price; the other part is that all of the money from the sale is used to support local causes.
"We get a lot of people saying we have wonderful trees and the money goes to good cause, so they don't mind spending," said Duval. "We don't take any money for ourselves. We all donate our time to the Lions Club."
In fact, aside from the cost of the trees, residents have been known to stop by to make donations.
"We're very fortunate for the wonderful support from the community," said Duval.
Each year, the Lions Club makes between $4,000 and $5,000 from the sale, depending on the amount of additional donations. Of that sum, $1,000 is annually earmarked for Townsend Ecumenical Outreach. Club members also assist TEO with food distribution around the holidays. The Lions Club also uses their tree earnings for two $1,000 scholarships for seniors of the North Middlesex Regional High School. Students who are planning to enter the teaching profession can apply for the funds to go towards their college tuition. Duval said the club usually receives several dozen applicants each year.
"We look for community involvement and that type of thing," he said.
Portions of the earnings go towards preparing for other annual fundraisers, like the club's April canoe race. They also plan to have a pancake breakfast and a Beatles cover band concert.
The Townsend Lions Club is a division of Lions Club International. The organization began in 1917 in the United States, but within three years, it had blossomed worldwide. There are currently 46,000 Lions Clubs worldwide, with more than 1.35 million members. Although the organization serves local communities in a myriad of ways, from giving grants to providing for local food banks, the Lions Club is mostly known for its involvement with vision research and aid.
"Helen Keller once spoke at their meeting and she challenged people to do something about helping people who are blind or visually impaired," said Duval. "It's kind of the focal point that everyone thinks about."
In addition to giving donations to Massachusetts Lions Eye Research, the Townsend Lions Club collect donated eyeglasses to give to vision-impaired people who cannot afford them and provides vision screenings, said Duval. They work in the development of projects such as audio books and closed-circuit TV electronic magnification reading systems, which assist visually impaired people in reading by magnifying the print on a screen.
"We've serviced a couple of people in town with that type of equipment," said Duval.
The club has also donated to other causes as the need arises. After Halloween, the club sent a check to the Hurricane Sandy relief fund. Generally, though, 95 percent of its earnings stay within the community.
"We like to see the money going locally to residents of the town," said Duval.
And the community is always more than willing to help, he added.
"It's very heartwarming to see the people come down and support us," said Duval. "Personally I find (the club's work) very gratifying. That's why I do it."