CHICAGO (CBS) — The U.S. Coast Guard delivered smiles on Saturday at Navy Pier after donating 1,200 Christmas tree to families in need.

A northern Michigan family has been delivering Christmas trees from northern Michigan to Chicago on what was known as the “Christmas Ship” since the late 1800’s, but in 1912 the ship sank, taking the entire crew with it.

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The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw has been making the trip since 2000, to keep the tradition alive.

The Mackinaw was greeted Saturday morning by groups of people from organizations assisting in the tree donation at Navy Pier, helping unload the trees and deliver them to families in need.

WBBM’s Michele Fiore was there as they began to unload the Christmas Tree Ship.

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More than 1,000 freshly cut pine trees were sent down to Chicago from Michigan. One by one, the trees flew down a ramp off the U.S. Coast Guard Ship, Cutter Mackinaw into the arms of a volunteer.

“You can see by the amount of people that came out, the number of organizations that volunteered their time to get these Christmas trees and bring them from Michigan, has been an amazing thing,” said Coast Guard Commanding Officer, Zeita Merchant.

She is filled with joy watching the operation.

“I was born in Chicago, on the West Side,” Merchant said. “As a child growing up, not always getting a Christmas tree. To be able to do this, this really means a lot to me.”

The great granddaughter of the man who started the Christmas Tree Ship in the early 1900’s stood proudly, watching, and tearing up.

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In 1921, Herman Schuenemann’s ship sunk on the way to Chicago with trees loaded and ready, but the tradition’s still very much alive.