'No work I'd rather do': Arbutus business donates 40 Christmas trees for local families

Joe Coates, owner of Groundshog Lawn and Landscape, stops by his Christmas tree lot in Catonsville in December 2017.
Joe Coates, owner of Groundshog Lawn and Landscape, stops by his Christmas tree lot in Catonsville in December 2017. (Courtesy Photo / Audrey McCoy)

The director of Southwest Emergency Services, or SWES, says she’s seen grown men and women cry after they’re given a Christmas tree for free.

“They can’t afford a tree. And to be able to have a tree for their family, they’re so thankful,” Betty Okonski said.


For the past 15 years, the local aid organization has facilitated the donation of live Christmas trees from Groundshog Lawn & Landscape, an Arbutus-based company, to local families in need.

This year Groundshog donated 40 trees, which SWES has given away to families living in the 21227 ZIP code, Okonski said.


“This is awesome, what they do for the families,” Okonski said. “They [the families] would not be able to have a live tree otherwise.”

Despite bad weather, a crowd of Catonsville families gathered to celebrate the start of the holiday season.

Joe Coates, who owns Groundshog and now lives in Catonsville, said he’s more than happy to donate the trees to SWES. The loss of potential profit from donating the trees “is not significant,” Coates said. His wife and office manager, Jessica Coates, said the loss of profit was maybe about $40 per tree.

“I appreciate the opportunity, frankly, to be able to do it,” he said. “Every little kid deserves a Christmas tree.”

Groundshog doesn’t farm trees, but purchases them at a wholesale cost from other suppliers and then sells them at four locations in Maryland, including two locations in southwestern Baltimore County.

In Catonsville and Arbutus, a portion of proceeds from the tree sales goes toward the organizations that allow Coates and his family to sell trees: in Catonsville, that’s St. John’s United Church of Christ; in Arbutus, it’s the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department.

Selling Christmas trees might not seem like physically demanding work, but Coates said it can be — being outdoors in cold weather, lifting and wrapping trees, can wear on a person.

“It’s a grind,” Coates said. “But it’s definitely a ton of fun. For the month of December, there’s no other work I’d rather do.”

The Coates’ children — Jackson, 16, and Peyton, 13 — along with some employees from the Groundshog landscaping business, handle most of the work during the Christmas season. Coates said he has “a bunch of people” from within the business helping out at the four Christmas tree lots.

As the holiday season progresses, it’s not just SWES clients that benefit from Groundshog’s charity work. Jessica Coates said they’ll cut deals so families without a lot of disposable income can still put a Christmas tree up in their home.

“Nobody doesn’t get a tree because of the money,” she said.

OCAMocha, a community space and coffee shop originally slated to open in Arbutus over the summer, has been delayed until spring 2019 because of a drawn-out permitting and approvals process, according to UMBC officials.

Joe Coates, the owner, said he doesn’t like to think about the financial aspect of donating trees. He prefers to be “a humble guy” and “just do it.”

“I don’t even want to involve any money in it, you know?” Coates said. “It’s my opportunity to give back, especially to a community that’s given me so much.”

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