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Oak that nearly toppled during 2019 tornado now a 'Gratitude Tree' in Richardson

“It’s just been so heartwarming. It brings me so much joy. We need to find joy. We need to find the silver linings right now," Kelly Kitchens said.

RICHARDSON, Texas — 2020 has been a year, hasn’t it?

It’s cliche to say at this point, but while standing outside her Richland Park home—Kelly Kitchens couldn’t agree more.

But like so many in the Dallas area, discomfort began for Kitchens way before 2020.

In October of 2019, when an EF-3 tornado danced across the metro causing millions in damage, Kitchens’ home found itself staring destruction in the face.

As she and her husband hunkered down, she could hear the 140 mph winds outside of her door.

When the tornado passed, she walked outside to see that a massive oak tree in her front yard had broken in several places and nearly toppled into her home.

“We tried to open our front door and we could only open it six inches,” Kitchens said. “It was almost like angels were standing going, ‘OK you can come down, but you can’t come any further.’"

Kitchens, a longtime publicist in the D-FW area, had to replace her roof but was thankful that the extent of the damage wasn’t any worse. 

That same tree is still standing to this day and has been trying to regrow what it lost, despite whatever is in its way.  

Kitchens can sympathize with that desire and says many who have lost much this year should be able to as well.

It’s why she placed a box at the base of the tree, along with paper tags and sharpies.

After that, she got the word out in her neighborhood for the holiday season: come to the tree to write down what you’re thankful for and hang it on a branch. 

The idea came from life coach Abby Cameron, who started a Gratitude Tree Project last year. 

It’s not a groundbreaking idea, a quick search on the internet shows that.

But it’s never unwanted. 

Like her tree, Kitchens didn’t expect the idea to grow. New tags show up on a daily basis.

Credit: WFAA

“It’s just been so heartwarming,” Kitchens said. “It brings me so much joy, which is so important. We need to find joy. We need to find the silver linings that are very difficult to find these days.”

Most of the tags have been written by neighbors, but others have been written by Kitchens herself. 

After sharing the idea online, friends from out of state and out of town messaged her the things they would want to be written and hung on the tree.

One, in particular, is Kitchens’ mother who has been in isolation much of the pandemic.

“She wrote that she was thankful for God, family, and friends that have sustained me during this time of isolation,” said Kitchens.

“That’s huge for me to read because I haven’t gotten to see her.”

Lots of people are decorating trees early this year, but Kitchens’ tree doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas.

It just centers around gratitude.

“If you remember what you’re grateful for and have that as your firm foundation, you can get through anything.”

Credit: WFAA