For many families, Christmas trees are normally delivered by car, not boat. But for Chicago families, this form of delivery is a tradition decades in the making.
Making its 22nd annual journey from Cheboygan, Michigan, to Navy Pier in Chicago, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw comes bearing roughly 1,200 Christmas trees for families in need. A choppy 140-nautical-mile journey that reenacts the odyssey made by the original Christmas tree ship in the 1900s, the schooner Rouse Simmons.
"We actually did hit some rough seas or lakes on the way down. So that's why they are tied down pretty well," U.S. Coast Guardsman Adalea Severs said.
For over 20 years, the Mackinaw has battled inclimate weather while crossing Lake Michigan to deliver more than 26,000 Christmas trees in total. And it isn't letting the COVID-19 pandemic get in the way of that.
"Yeah, that's kind of a characteristic of the marine community," Chicago's Christmas Ship Committee chairman George Kisiel said. "You know, we're always used to dealing with changes in weather, changes in situations."
At the heart of it all? The families who will be receiving the trees.
"There's just nothing like sitting around a Christmas tree with your family," said Jamal Malone, CEO of Ada S. McKinley Community Services. "And we just want to make sure that any family that wants to share in that experience isn't hindered by the cost or the logistics of getting a tree."
The Ada S. McKinley Community Services organization is responsible for helping find homes for these trees this holiday season.
"We have the honor and the charge of coordinating with about 100 other not-for-profits, local churches, the Boy Scouts, different groups," Malone said. "And we all sign up to connect families that need trees and want trees with the Coast Guard."
The committee behind the Mackinaw's delivery says ultimately, the journey isn't about the trees, but rather helping families in need gain access to support in their community.
"Not only were we bringing holiday cheer with a symbolic gesture, the Christmas tree, to, you know, families that may not have access to that, but what we're also doing is we're connecting them with the community organizations in their area," Kisiel said.