ST. GEORGE — Making sure local veterans don’t fall through the cracks at Christmas is the goal of the Veterans Christmas Tree.

Judy Cooley with the St. George Chamber with gifts that will go to St. George veterans who are in rest homes this holiday season, St. George, Utah, unspecified date | Photo courtesy of Judy Cooley, St. George News

“Some veterans are in nursing homes and a lot of them really are forgotten,” said Judy Cooley, who organizes the Veterans Christmas Tree drive. “People drop them off and forget about them. So I just make sure that all the veterans get at least one or two gifts.”

Cooley, the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce Sunshiners, and business owners gather gifts from the community. She said it means a great deal to the veterans who otherwise would not have received presents.

She has put up the Veterans Christmas Tree for five years at restaurants such as Guru’s on Bluff Street. This year, Cooley moved the tree to Guru’s new Sun River Golf Club location.

“I want to thank everybody that has taken stars and donated their time and money to help these vets,” Cooley said. “The vets greatly appreciate it even though they can’t hit you back and say thank you. I thank you.”

Participants could select a star with the name of one of the veterans participating in the program and see what they want for Christmas. Presents are then wrapped and brought back to the restaurant. Then Cooley and her son picked up the gifts and delivered them to nursing homes in St. George.

Judy Cooley organizes the Veteran Christmas tree drive each year that has the veterans’ names people get gifts for, St. George, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Judy Cooley, St. George News

Cooley coordinates with the senior homes activity directors, who let her know the names of the veterans and what they would like. She said the veterans are grateful for a surprise gift if they don’t know what they want.

“It’s so sad sometimes,” Cooley said. “One guy just asked for a bottle of chocolate syrup and one has asked for cranberry juice or orange juice. They don’t get visitors, so they don’t get that extra special something at Christmastime.”

She used to deliver the gifts and lap blankets in person to the vets at the nursing centers, but the COVID-19 pandemic halted that. Now, she has to drop them off at the front desk to be distributed.

“They don’t need to be forgotten and many are,” Cooley said.

Additionally, some younger veterans have served and returned injured and need visits and gifts, too. This year, there were also stars for some active Navy and Marine service members. The Veteran’s Christmas Tree project is for veterans of all ages.

“A lot of people get involved and think it’s a worthy cause; last year, Slice of Veyo also had a tree with Veteran stars on it the last two years,” she said.

Cooley’s first husband served three tours in Vietnam and later died because of complications related to exposure to Agent Orange. The United States Military used it as part of an herbicidal warfare program during the Vietnam War. Her second husband died earlier this year. Cooley said she is very excited to see her grandchildren who will be visiting for the holidays.

Those wanting to assist in 2024 can contact Cooley next autumn here. Cooley said she will continue the program “as long as there’s a veteran in need.” The Dixie Elks Lodge  No. 1743 also does a separate Veteran’s Tree for service members in Ivins.

Photo Gallery

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.