Kevin Jones didn't have the heart to explain to his young daughters that there wasn't enough money for presents or even a tree to place them under.
But thanks to the kindness of strangers, he didn't have to.
Mr. Jones' family was one of many in the Baltimore area who received a Christmas tree as a last-minute gift from the Rock Church in Towson, which, like other sellers, found itself stuck with a glut of greenery on Christmas Eve.
Mr. Jones, a 29-year-old unemployed painter, received his tree Monday as bonus when he picked up toys and a basket of food at the Oliver Street Community Center for himself, his wife, Carla, and their three daughters.
"I want to thank them so much," Mr. Jones said tearfully, as he recalled his 6-year-old daughter, Tanika, happily stringing rainbow colored lights around the tree. "I just couldn't tell her that I had to pay rent and didn't have money for toys and presents," he said.
Dolores Banks, the center's coordinator, said the 15 trees were given away in minutes after the church dropped them off.
Groups like the Salvation Army and Baltimore Housing Authority, who have received surplus trees in the past, said that they would have accepted the donations yesterday but were not equipped to distribute tons of trees at the 11th hour.
But Mrs. Banks said her group could have used more.
"I was really surprised that so many people didn't have trees two days before Christmas. But, I guess, it's just a sign of the hard times," she said.
It was also hard times for some organizations and individual tree distributors who lost money on sales this year because of a tree surplus. In anticipation of a slow market, the Rock Church only ordered 800 trees -- 600 fewer than usual -- and still they could not sell them all. The church usually gives profits from the sale to teachers at the Rock Church Academy as a bonus.
"We saw that the market was going to be flooded, but not because of the economy," said pastor Bart Pierce. "There was just too many people trying to sell them, and it really hurt us this year."
Henry Marconi, vice president of Watson's Garden Center, said it's cheaper to find someone to give the tree to instead of absorbing the cost of disposing of it.
"It's a flat loss," he said.
"You literally eat them for lunch, breakfast and dinner. They [sellers] usually end up chopping them up for mulch, but there's really no market for it," he said, explaining that the green mulch takes 16 months to decompose before it's useful.
American Legion Post 148 in Essex abandoned its lot at Memorial Stadium after sales fell short of expectations. Nearly a thousand trees once priced at $21 and up were free yesterday to a few who found them piled in a heap at the stadium's southside.
It would be weeks before the legion could tally up their loss, a member said.
Stadium officials said they believed that the state Department of Natural Resources or Baltimore Department of Public Works would claim the bundle. But Walter Orlinsky, director of the department's tree-planting program, said the agency had received more than its share of leftover trees.
A distributor on Patapsco Avenue asked the department to take 500 trees off his hands. The department will use the trees to decorate a nature area in Glen Brook. Mr. Orlinsky said most jurisdictions recycle trees because state law prohibits burning them.
Carville Akehurst, chairman of the Maryland Christmas Tree Growers Association, blamed the surplus on an unusually large number of out-of-town tree sellers targeting the Baltimore market, where many buyers prefer to choose and cut their own trees grown on farms.
"There are a million Christmas trees sold in Maryland every year. About 130,000 come from cut-and-choose farms, the rest from wholesalers who grow trees in large quantities on thousands of acres in places like Canada, Nova Scotia and Michigan," he said.
"This year was a big loss for groups like the Kiwanis or Boy Scouts who bought trees from large merchandisers," he said. "They're not selling those trees on consignment. Those trees are bought and paid for."