MT. ZION, Ill. (WCIA) – ‘Tis the season for Boy Scout Troop 43’s largest fundraiser – a Christmas tree sale. The holiday tradition has been around for more than two decades.

“But in the last several years, it has been a stretch to get a source for trees,” Scout Master Kevin Johnson said.

The number of available sources dwindled… Until only one was left.

“They sent us a letter this year and said they can’t do it. They don’t have the trees to sell us the quantities that we need,” Johnson said.

That’s because the troop needs about 600 trees. And 20 years ago, Johnson said that number would be closer to a thousand. So, what happened?

“Part of it was the recession around 2009 and 2010,” he said.

In the following years – droughts.

“A lot of growers went out of business then,” he said.

That brings us to today. Troop 43 canceled its sale for only the second time. The first was in 2020. Johnson said his last grower – a private tree farm in northern Indiana – said it could be several years before they have enough inventory to help.

“In years past, we used local tree farms in central Illinois,” he said. “We would actually go out and do the cutting, and shape the trees and prep them. But even here in central Illinois, those growers have become fewer and fewer.”

In a good year, Johnson said the trees could bring in $10,000 to spend on adventure camps and scouting gear. So not only is Troop 43 getting hit hard financially, Johnson said they’re also missing out on a chance to learn sales and leadership skills. Plus, Mt. Zion is losing a staple Christmas tree source.

“A lot of people in the community – we are where they buy their tree and have been for many years,” Johnson said.

And over those years of selling trees, friendships were made.

“It’s super fun doing it, because you get to have a lot of one-on-one conversations with the younger scouts, and get to know them a lot more while running 3 or 4 hour shifts. It’ll definitely be something that’s missed,” scout Gabe Johnson said.

The Odd Fellows Lodge in Mt. Zion is using part of the proceeds from their holiday raffle to support the troop. For the future, Johnson said he’s got a few ideas for new fundraisers.