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Second life as lumber -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Second life as lumber

Workers cut the limbs from the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree before it is milled into lumber for Habitat houses.
©Habitat for Humanity/Ezra Millstein



Esther Huambo attends the 2008 tree lighting ceremony in New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza with her daughter, Dalila, and son, Jose. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Steffan Hacker


Series homepage: Why We Build


Long after Christmas is over, the Rockefeller Center Tree lights up these families’ lives

By Phil Kloer

The annual lighting of the enormous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree takes place amid plenty of hoopla. NBC broadcasts it live on TV; celebrities perform; and in the blink of an eye, 30,000 LED lights are switched on as thousands of New Yorkers watch from street level.

But perhaps the most meaningful activities surrounding the tree take place with much less fanfare. Each January for the past five years, the tree has come down and been milled into lumber to be used in building a Habitat for Humanity house.

The 70- to 100-foot trees, donated by Rockefeller Center’s owner, Tishman Speyer Properties, have been used in apartments in Brooklyn, New York, and in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

They have helped Haitian immigrants move into simple, decent shelter and framed the hopes of an Ethiopian couple now settled in Philadelphia.

The Rockefeller trees live on long after the lights are turned off, in the Christmas celebrations and gatherings that will take place this year and many years into the future among families who now see a better path forward. Here are some of their stories.

The Huambo family: No furniture, but a beautiful tree
Brooklyn, New York
2008 tree

In 2008, Esther Huambo, a single mother and student accounts assistant at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, was living with her grandmother and sharing one bedroom with her daughter, Dalila, and son, Jose.

“I prayed and prayed for a new home,” she said. “Not wanting to be selfish, but wanting something better for my kids. Some people want a house, but I would have been content with an apartment or a condo.”

One day her supervisor at work came in with a flier from Habitat for Humanity. “From that moment on, I knew what the Lord had for me,” she said.

But even she was surprised when New York City Habitat took her and her children down to Rockefeller Center to see the 2008 Christmas tree, which was soon made into lumber to build apartments in Brooklyn. In November 2009, they moved in to their new apartment, and a month later they spent their first Christmas in their home.

“The kids were ecstatic,” Huambo said. “We didn’t have any furniture; we just had the tree in the living room. It looked beautiful. We had gifts under the tree, but we didn’t have anything to sit on.

“It’s nice to have people and family come to my place,” she said, looking forward to her fourth Christmas in the house. “I could never have people over for Christmas before, because I didn’t have a place.

Now we make it a point. My kids and I tell people that Christmas is all around us because of the wood from the tree. Everybody gets a kick out of that.”

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