The weather was nippy cold with the promise of snow in the air. Santa, all white beard, red suit and holiday cheer, sat on a folding chair next to a table with hot coffee and cookies. Leaning against the wall of the building, bundled-up Fraser firs stood ready to be picked up, taken home and, with sparkly decorations and stars on top, transformed into Christmas trees.
On this Saturday, in the parking lot of Hubbard Funeral Home on Wilkens Ave. in Arbutus, Daniel Simons, the funeral home's managing partner, watched as families arrived for their trees. A truck loaded with 20 trees pulled out for the National Guard Armory in Salisbury. Two more trucks, each with the same number of trees, headed to Cumberland and Aberdeen military facilities.
For the second year in a row, Simons and his wife, Heather, held their Christmas Trees for Troops, a 250-trees giveaway to Maryland National Guard and Air Guard families, along with United States military families at Fort Meade.
"I don't know any other person or group in the state that does something like this," said Theresa Stoddard, the guard's child and youth program coordinator, who handled the publicity, coordinated arrangements and brought in a dozen members of the program to help.
The Christmas tree giveaway is one of nearly a dozen charitable events the Simonses hold throughout the year, personal projects they undertake on their own initiative and as part of the funeral home's expenses.
Simons, who has a degree in mortuary science, has spent his career in funeral homes. In 2011, he and his wife, who works in the business with him, came to Baltimore to run Hubbard's. Founded in 1941 as a family owned business, it now operates under a parent company, Carriage Services.
"Last year we probably spent $30,000 on charity," said Simons, the 41-year old baby-faced father of two, Ryan, 7 and Paige, 5. "I make the decision what we spend on. As long as we are a successful business, it's OK with the parent company."
A native of upstate New York, Simons said he comes from a charitable family. "You don't wake up one day and say, 'I want to be charitable.' It's part of who you are."
Even so, Simons' charitable giving appears to have blossomed after he and his wife took over Hubbard's.
"Giving back wasn't part of the operations model," he said, "but our feeling is, we are a community funeral home and we need to serve the community in the form of charity and donations."
Simons doesn't wait to be asked. If he hears of a need, he fills it. If he sees a need on his own, he fills it. He tries to keep the charitable acts local and work with organizations like churches and schools he knows.
"It's a fluid situation. We evaluate year to year to see which programs were effective, what did the most good," said Simons, who doesn't have a set amount he spends annually on charity but, instead, "tries to do as much as we can for as long as we can."
Last fall, for example, when he took his son shopping for school supplies, he was amazed at the cost. "I thought, 'All this money for a first-grader. How do parents with two and three children manage?'" said Simons, who, after calling area schools' guidance counselors, donated nearly 200 backpacks filled with school supplies to underprivileged children.
That's how he also ended up donating 50 frozen turkeys to St. Clement Church, in Lansdowne, last Thanksgiving.
"He called the church and asked if they needed them. The deacon said 'yes' and, well, they got 50 turkeys," said Father Christopher Whatley, pastor of St. Mark Church, in Catonsville. "The Simonses quietly initiate these things."
Whatley should know. The Simonses belong to Our Lady of Victory, an Arbutus church, but they formed a relationship with Whatley this past summer thanks to Teresa Bartlinski, the 6-year-old adopted daughter of a parishioner who did not survive heart surgery.
"The Simonses contacted me," Whatley said. "They facilitated getting the child back to Baltimore from Philadelphia [where the operation was held]. They took care of the cost of the entire funeral."
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To Simons, pro bono and reduced-fee funerals are part of Hubbard's service to the community – all community members, he emphasizes, "regardless of economic status," a policy that sometimes means providing "an economically feasible but still dignified service," he added.
Like Whatley, Fred Schneider met the Simonses through their charitable activities. After Schneider, coordinator of bereavement services for Professional Healthcare Hospice, of Arbutus, delivered his annual death and dying lecture, the Simonses approached him with an offer to help the hospice.
"And they have," said Schneider, listing the use of the funeral home's parlor as the regular meeting place, with lunch, for hospice volunteers, and donations to the annual holiday party of the Bridges bereavement group. This year, Simons is paying for a catered lunch for the 75 people who belong to the hospice-sponsored group for those suffering the loss of a loved one.
Bridges meets at Charlestown Retirement Community, where last Memorial Day, Simons coordinated with the Colonial Flag Foundation for Charlestown residents and community members to buy a full-size American flag to fly on a field on the campus. The nearly $25,000 the Field of Honor event raised was donated to veterans groups.
Back at the Hubbard Funeral Home parking lot, Carly Howe, of Glen Burnie, waited with her sons, Jaxon, 3, and Eli, 9 months, while Command Sgt. Major Aaron Henderson, of the Maryland National Guard, and Anthony Epps, a National Guard youth program member from Reisterstown, tied a tree on top of her van.
Howe heard about the giveaway at Fort Meade, where her husband, a captain in the U.S. Air Force, is stationed. She called the number in the flier and reserved a tree.
"This is really nice," said Howe. "This is the real holiday spirit."