Tree-planting project aims to help Gifford recover

By Angelica Lavito

Gifford, Ill. received 235 new trees on Saturday, thanks to the “Let’s Get Growing Again” project.

After a tornado devastated the town last November, various groups have reached out to offer their help. The event, which was part of Saturday’s Community & Campus Day of Service, aimed to help rebuild the town in a different way.

“It’s just a shot in the arm to (the residents of Gifford) that people care, that somebody’s doing something special for them. That’s really what our goal was,” said Bill Malone, Rotary Club of Champaign member and chair of the event.

About 150 volunteers helped plant the trees on Saturday. Brad Uken, president of the Champaign County Farm Bureau, helped develop the idea of planting trees as part of the rebuilding effort.

“You have to think about the trees that have a lot of memories to them,” Uken said. “Whether it be the tire swing that hung from it and the kids played on it, or the family reunion that you kind of sat outside under the shade tree … it’s about recreating those memories and helping the environment.”

Through working with the Champaign County Soil & Water Conservation District, the bureau realized the magnitude of the devastation, particularly to the community’s trees.

Along with The Champaign County Farm Bureau, Ludwig Bros., Inc. and the Rotary Club of Champaign, Rantoul and Piatt counties partnered to host the event.

“There are individuals that continue to need help, that are continuing to rebuild their lives after the storms last year,” Uken said. “If we can help in a small manner to get those people back on the path of normalcy, then we want to do that.”

Nearly five months after the storm, Gifford is continuing to rebuild.

“I have toured the Gifford area, and I was still overwhelmed by what I saw,” said Eric Bussell, volunteer coordinator for the Rotary Club of Champaign. “It was about a month ago when I last drove through, and I was told that it looks significantly better than before they started the cleanup.”

Although progress has been made, the effects of the storm are still evident.

“It’s just naked here,” Malone said. “I’m right here on somebody’s property right now and there’s this beautiful oak tree that’s probably 40-feet-tall, but it’s lost all of its limbs about two-thirds of the way up, and it’s one of the survivors.”

Malone recognizes there is still work to do in Gifford but is thankful for the opportunity to help Champaign’s neighbors in need.

“When you find an opportunity — and sometimes it takes a lifetime before they come along — that you can use what knowledge you have and your vocation to help others, you need to jump on it because it may not come again,” Malone said.

Angelica can be reached at [email protected]