“We do a lot of work. We work hard. It’s really no self-gain, but they have a thing called Big Picture when you first get there, it’s a class you go through…[you learn that] all the wrong that we did, you can’t take that back, but you can do a lot of good and balance out the scales. There’s a lot of good stuff in Big Picture,” LJ Nelson says.
Nelson, Richard Hutcheson and Shaun Stephen are members of Delancey Street Foundation, a residential self-help organization for addicts, ex-convicts and the homeless.
“I just think that, somewhere along our lives, we just kinda got off the road, started doing the wrong thing, and this place just brings us back to where we’re supposed to be,” Nelson says. Hutcheson, Stephen and Nelson are three of eight Delancey Street residents who, from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas, cut, wrap, load and deliver Christmas trees in Santa Fe.
“This is the biggest lot, the busiest, too,” Nelson says. “We sold over 100 [trees] yesterday.” The DeVargas Center tree lot is one of six Delancey Street lots in New Mexico. Along with profits from Delancey Street’s moving company, tree sales are the primary funders for “the Ranch,” the organization’s 17-acre New Mexico facility, located on San Juan Pueblo. “It’s gorgeous,” Hutcheson says.
Both on and off the ranch, Delancey Street residents work full days, nearly every day. “It teaches you how to work, how to work constantly. That way, your mind is always occupied; that way, you don’t think about everything you used to do,” Nelson says.
But the days don’t consist solely of hard work. “We shoot the shit,” Hutcheson says. “This is a rough time of year, so we gotta stay happy.”
At night, a couple of Delancey workers stay on site as night watchmen. So far, no one has tried to steal any trees. “I can’t imagine going to jail for trying to rob a tree lot,” Stephen laughs. “Bad karma, huh? But you never know.”
“Front page: The Grinch,” Nelson jokes, and laughter erupts.
The DeVargas lot is the only Delancey Street lot in New Mexico that delivers trees. Mike Sanchez, the driver of the delivery truck, traveled to Santa Fe from the San Francisco branch. He pulls up as the others talk. They tell him they’re being interviewed.
“To my whole [San Francisco] Delancey family: I love you guys, I miss you guys—hope to come home soon,” he shouts into SFR’s recorder. The others laugh. “This isn’t live,” Nelson says with a smile. Sanchez chuckles and continues, “Come and buy a tree from us, man. It helps out our house, and helps out our community as well.”