Marc Botello and his dog, Heidi, help customers pick out a Christmas tree at the Peco Pines lot on Stewart Avenue in Medford every year. But this year, it’s Botello who needs help. Without cataract surgery, Botello could go blind. - Julia Moore

fading eyesight threatens livelihood

MEDFORD — Though it was a side job he took on five years ago for extra cash, Grants Pass native Marc Botello can hardly imagine a holiday season without working at the Christmas tree lot on Stewart Avenue east of Columbus Avenue.

Scores of regular customers show up every year with cookies and stories, intent on Botello being the guy who helps pick their tree.

He even met his beloved dog, Heidi, there last Christmas when the stray border collie wandered onto his lot.

But this may be Botello's last year selling Christmas trees. Cataracts completely obstruct the vision in his right eye, and something — doctors aren't quite sure what yet — is threatening the sight in his left. Without a $2,400 cataract surgery to restore his vision, he may lose his regular job at Caveman Fence in Grants Pass as well.

Botello's holiday boss, Peco Pines owner Bill Lambert, has posted signs at his eight tree lots from Ashland to Grants Pass asking members of the public to help Botello cover cataract surgery.

Proceeds from any trees sold during the final days of the season will go to Botello's surgery.

While the 42-year-old Botello is embarrassed over the attention, he fears being unable to take care of his 82-year-old mother, his dog and himself if he loses his sight.

Trauma to his eyes from a fireworks explosion at a party (he was an onlooker) more than a decade ago likely led to his vision troubles at such a young age, he said.

"I have never asked for help but I'm always thinking about what it will be like when I go blind. I'll be homeless," he said.

"It's frustrating because I want to work. I don't want to depend on anyone to take care of me."

He'd rather tell stories of families who come in to see him and Heidi or who come in to buy trees for community members in need. Families down on their luck buying trees for other families worse off.

"I've learned from being at this lot that even people who don't have very much, it makes them feel good to be able to help someone else in need," he said.

"A lot of people come in to buy trees for other people. It's really neat the stories we hear."

Lambert said Botello is more deserving than most and is less likely to ask for help.

"He's working hard, doesn't have insurance and if he doesn't get an operation, the poor guy is going to lose his job," Lambert said. "To me, kind of makes me wonder, why don't we help these kind of people who are good people and want to work hard, instead of putting them on welfare?"

Botello said opening a stack of bills Wednesday was discouraging.

"It's down to, do I save everything I can make to try to get the surgery and not pay my bills? Or do I pay my bills and lose my sight?" he said.

Almost on cue, Heidi offered a soggy bone-shaped tennis ball to her owner.

"She's the best thing that's happened to me in a long time," he said with a smile. "I wouldn't take a million dollars for that dog."

If all goes well, Botello will be able to save for the surgery and be on the lot again next year.

"I can still see the light at the end of the tunnel," he said with a laugh.

"I keep hearing it'll be shut off because of budget cuts, but I can still see it for now."

For more information or to make a donation, visit Rogue Valley locations for Peco Pines or send checks for Marc Botello to Peco Pines, 1004 Peco Road, Grants Pass, OR 97526.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at

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