Frank Pichel didn’t expect much when he started selling his odd-looking Christmas trees late last month.
He just wanted to raise money for Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School in Richmond’s East End. The faith-based, tuition-free private school caught the eye of Pichel, who is a commercial animator and part-time professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, after he noticed a fundraiser for athletic equipment a couple of years back.
“It’s [going] so well that I think I’ll just make this a thing I’ll do every year and I imagine I’ll keep having them as the charity,” Pichel said.
The frail-looking pine trees may remind some of the one found in the Charlie Brown Christmas movie. Bigger than the tiny tree portrayed on the holiday special, the trees sold by Pichel stand as short as 5 feet and as tall as 8 feet.
Pichel spent a majority of his Thanksgiving chopping 70 trees from his Nelson County plot of land, then hauled them to the city. Anna Julia Cooper gave Pichel the green light shortly thereafter and he began sales the following weekend, raking in $1,200 over the first two days.
Pichel’s 66-acre plot in Nelson has a massive surplus of Pinus virginiana, a pine tree typically found in mountainous regions ranging from Alabama to New York.
The trees’ short stature and spindly branches aren’t what some may look for when buying Christmas trees, but Pichel says shoppers are better motivated by good will.
Pichel, who is not religious and does not have children, has no connection to Anna Julia Cooper other than living near the school in Church Hill. The proximity to the school has garnered customers who are affiliated.
“[Customers] seem really excited so maybe they’re going to try to reach out to their community as well,” Pichel says.
This is Pichel’s first year selling trees; he’s only given them as gifts in the past. The trees generally run $20-$50 each, but a sign advertises a “pay what you want” price. Pichel aims to continue the selling through the holiday, from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays at 2308 Jefferson Ave.
Since the sale began, Anna Julia Cooper has released a flyer promoting Pichel’s trees on their Facebook page. Before that, Pichel was relying on his own Facebook friends to amass sales.
The summer’s racial justice protests highlighted many of the issues residents in Richmond’s East End face on a day-to-day basis. He wanted to give back to the community in a way that benefits its needs.
What’s most important to Pichel is the school and what they’ve done to support students.
“If there’s a possibility to highlight the school and what they’re doing, that would be my preference.”