Jack Volpei first heard about the YMCA's summer camp in 1963. He was told it would be good for his son, who was then 7 years old. And it was free.
"I thought there was a catch," Volpei said.
That year, Volpei got involved with the Burbank YMCA. Every year since, he's helped the Y send more kids to camp through its sale of Christmas trees, the largest annual fundraiser for the Burbank YMCA Service Club. About 1,600 trees were sold last year.
On Monday night, Volpei and his fellow volunteers prepared the lot, located at Victory and Burbank boulevards, by cleaning the lot and giving the trees a good watering. He was joined at the register by Frank Sakata.
Between the two of them is more than 100 years of experience at the tree lot.
"We've raised over $1 million since we started," Sakata said.
Chris Nishimura, president of the service club, says it's a simple sales proposition: "You buy a tree from here, you're sending a kid to summer camp."
Except for the location, not a whole lot has changed for the lot in 50 years. Nowadays, they keep a list of emails of repeat customers — slap your address in their ledger and it's 10% off your tree next year. A big innovation came a few years back when they started accepting credit cards. Before then, you might see the occasional bum check and they'd have no way of tracking down the issuer.
That's right — a rubber check for a Christmas tree that helps send kids to camp and day care.
The guys at the YMCA lot try to help families where they can. Occasionally, a family at the Y is given one off the lot, or sometimes offered at a reduced rate. Like the Y itself, the tree lot tries not to turn anyone away.
Local nonprofits also receive complimentary trees through the program, and in turn companies like RC Provision Inc. next door help the service club by providing the water for the trees.
After dinner time on Monday, several families began strolling the aisles. Melody Navarro and her family are spending their first Christmas in Burbank — daughter Isabella, 8, runs ahead to scope out the trees. Isabella goes to the Y after school each day to do homework and exercise before Melody leaves work.
"It makes it so I'm not rushing to get home. It's a great help," Melody Navarro said. "They have a good place."
Up ahead, some volunteers are watering trees and prepping some for transport. The all-volunteer operation shakes out the trees, cuts them, wraps them and places them on your car.
A few years ago, Dean Talley rode his bike by the operation and decided to ask if they needed help. For operations like this, which involved monthly meetings and preparations all year long, help is always welcome.
Talley has been there every year since.
"It's a workout and I smell good," he said, referring to the pine-tree scent.
The YMCA Christmas lot is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at 101 W. Burbank Blvd. Parking is available on Lake Street.