The Christmas season is a time to unite in order to help spread holiday cheer with those less fortunate. That's exactly what the Girl Scouts of Niagara and Erie County accomplished at Riverside Presbyterian Church in Niagara Falls last week.

Forty-nine artificial Christmas trees were creatively decorated by Girl Scout troops. Families or individuals who expressed a need were able to view the decorated trees and select one to take home.

One grateful recipient came in and stated that she could only select a small tree because she would have to carry it home on the bus. A couple overheard the situation and told the woman to select any tree she desired and they offered to drive her home. Such acts of kindness can always be found at this annual event.

Since 1996 the Girl Scouts of Niagara County, joined last year by Erie County troops, have given away more than 800 Christmas trees to families and organizations in need.

Barb Wallace, the co-chairwoman of this year's Festival of Trees, explained that each Girl Scout troop provides a tree as well as the lights and decorations. There are also a few trees donated by outside groups.

"If they have a tree, they give it to us," Wallace said. "They know we'll give it a good home."

Ten to 20 trees are decorated per night over a five-day period by more than 35 local Girl Scout troops, about 300 girls and parents in all. The selection of trees varies from table-top trees to 6-foot pines, each decked out with its own personality reflected by themes such as "a winter wonderland," "sweet treats," "stuffed animals," "toys and snacks," "hand-crafted ornaments" as well as more traditionally decorated trees.

Wallace said one memorable tree came from the Pendleton troop, which has participated in the event multiple times. That troop had adorned a tree with compact discs; one side of the CD was painted while the opposite side was left shiny.

Underneath many of the trees, the Girl Scouts leave gifts of nonperishable food as well as small toys, books, hats, gloves and scarves.

Katie Armstrong, a sophomore at Mount St. Mary Academy and member of Sweet Home service unit, Troop 30616, participated with girls from her troop and also from troops 1420 and 30205 for the first time this year.

"This is different [from other events] because I've done other food drives but never something with such Christmas spirit," Katie said.

"Volunteering is not a chore, it can be fun," she added. "Volunteering in the past taught me that you can bring a friend, have fun, even when helping others."

Eliza Lefebvre is a sophomore at Sweet Home High School.