Helping children a holiday tradition at Mystic tree farm

Nov. 24—MYSTIC — Last year, Tom and Pantea Umrysz of Yetter Road Tree Farm were looking for a way to share their farm with the community, when they decided to help people donate to children in need for the holidays.

The couple, who also run a painting company, created ornaments with children's Christmas wish lists and displayed them at the farm. Their hope was that people would take an ornament and return it with gifts to donate through the Groton Human Services' Adopt-A-Family program.

The farm saw an outpouring of support from customers and people visiting the farm.

"They all wanted to give, they just didn't know where, and people really loved the fact that it was people in the community that they were helping," Pantea Umrysz said.

The effort resulted in 50 children receiving gifts, 17 families receiving gift cards, and nearly $1,400 being raised for Groton Human Services, she said.

This year, the Mystic farm is building on the success of last year's program by offering opportunities for people to donate gifts to 74 children in honor of the farm's opening in 1974. Tom Umrysz's grandparents, John and Irene Whittle Umrysz opened the farm 48 years ago. In 2013, the business was passed to Lee Umrysz, Tom's father and Pantea's father-in-law. Tom and Pantea help with the business.

Pantea said they want to make the farm's Adopt-A-Family contribution an annual tradition and grow the program.

"We took an idea and we put it to action and we made it happen and we got a really good response and so it's like if we can do this now just imagine what we can do next year and if we did this next year just imagine what we can do the following year and how do we continue to give and grow," Pantea said.

As people recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the farm wants to bring back the magic of the season, which she said is about giving, sharing and loving. Those also are the values she wants to teach her children, Ariya, who will be 3 in March, and Jackson, who is 17 months old.

To help out, people can stop by Dina's Shoppe, the farm's store, to pick up an ornament with a child's wish list and return the gifts, unwrapped, to the farm by Dec. 5. The farm also will have 22 ornaments requesting gift card donations for families.

Chris Whipple, a neighbor and local firefighter, created wooden "Jenga" Christmas trees to display the ornaments.

Quinn Denis, 11 and Lucy Whipple, 10, who are cousins, created handmade bracelets to be sold at the shop, with $1 from each sale to benefit the tree farm's Adopt-A-Family program.

The store also sells goods from about 25 local artisans, including Julie Cook, who makes items such as shell ornaments, and Cole Quinn of Blown Away Glass Studio, a young artist from Noank who has glass ornaments for sale. Groton Public Schools' Transition Academy, a program for students age 18 to 22 with special abilities, made hand-painted wooden ornaments that will benefit the academy.

The farm had a soft opening earlier this week, and the farm's official opening day for the season is Friday, Nov. 25. Pantea anticipates the farm's field will be open both this weekend and the following weekend, but the farm's shop will remain open until Dec. 23 and pre-cut trees will be available until Dec. 23, or until they sell out.

People can also pay to tag a tree between Friday, Nov. 25 and Monday, Nov. 28 and pick it up later.

The farm is reaching out to the community in other ways and for the first time will host an event, called SilverFest, from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1. Pantea said the idea is to have a fun event at the farm that connects female-owned businesses and local businesses. The event will feature local jewelry store Simply Majestic of Mystic, musician Andi Flax, drinks by On the Fly Mixology, a DIY swag station, a raffle by Integrated Dermatology of Groton, and sweets from Lis Bake Shop.

Lisa Fredsbo, social worker with Groton Human Services, said the department's annual holiday distribution will serve up to 500 families in total, from individuals to families. People can make toy donations or they can sponsor a family for the holidays. Yetter Road Tree Farm is sponsoring 22 of the families.

People who want more information can call the Groton Human Services at (860) 441-6760 and ask for Fredsbo or Finance Coordinator Megan Wilbur.

More information about Yetter Road Farm is available at: https://www.facebook.com/YetterRoadTreeFarm/

k.drelich@theday.com