Christmas tree offers hope to New Jersey town damaged by Sandy

(Facebook photo)

For days after Sandy struck, Union Beach youth soccer coach and county parks employee James Butler drove by an artificial Christmas tree sticking out of the debris in his destroyed New Jersey town.

One night, Butler took the tree out of the rubble and set it up in a vacant field. Next to it, he posted a sign:

"Dear Sandy: You can't wash away hope. You only watered it so more hope can grow. Signed, Union Beach."

Since then, residents of the flood-damaged town made it the tree their own, decorating the Union Beach Hope Tree, as it's now known, with lights, ornaments and messages of hope.

"It's become the sign of our hope, that life goes on and you move forward. It's just amazing," Gigi Liaguno-Dorr, who lost her restaurant in the storm, told the Associated Press.

"People say that Sandy brought that tree here for us," added Angel Barbosa, who works in a nearby pizzeria.

Butler started an anonymous Facebook account for the tree, asking people to share the stories behind the ornaments left on the tree.

"I was just overwhelmed with the number of ornaments," he said. "All of the green foam ornaments were done by a class displaced from Memorial School. The class wanted to do ornaments and bring them. Those are really special because they are done by kids who want to be in their own school."

Even Santa knows about the tree. He'll be visiting the Hope Tree on December 16 to pose for photos with local families, Patch writer Chelsea Naso reports.