Children playing, dogs wagging their tails, soldiers carrying gifts with their families by their side, this was no typical accountability formation for Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, I Corps, Oct. 26.
This was a gathering to help fellow soldiers who are struggling to bring joy to their children during the holidays.
Santa’s Castle is a private, nonprofit organization ran by community volunteers it was established in 1994. It provides Christmas presents to Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine, activated National Guard, Coast Guard and Reserve children.
The initiative to donate toys to Santa’s Castle was part of the battalion’s service project for the Make a Difference Day, said Cpt. Darren Kerr, commander, Headquarters Support Company.
So far HHB has been the first unit on Joint Base Lewis-McChord to come to the castle and donate to the organization. A total of 310 soldiers and family members participated in the battalion’s toy march to Santa’s Castle. Over $2,800 was donated in toys to help Soldier in need bring a merry Christmas to their children this year.
“The purpose for the march to Santa’s Castle was to encourage other units to do the same,” said Lt. Col. Steven Berger, commander, HHB. “It really doesn’t take that much planning and coordination and it really helps the community.”
Last year Santa’s Castle gave out more than $100,000 worth of toys, said Lisa Bennett, the secretary for Santa’s Castle. The organization is still taking referrals to identify eligible recipients until Nov. 2.
Soldiers in the ranks of Specialist and below, who are struggling financially, can go through their chain of command or chaplain to get referred to Santa’s Castle and will be able to receive gifts for their children. Every referral packet is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, said Bennett. Once the soldiers are selected, they will be assigned a time to go in to Santa’s Castle and shop for their children’s presents.
“Our soldiers give up and sacrifice so many things for us on a day to day basis, this is a chance to help out the ones who need it the most and give a little something back to them,” said Bennett.
Santa’s Castle gets all its donations from community organizations. It accepts both monetary and toy donations. More than 2,300 children received toys from Santa’s Castle last year and they hope to achieve the same this year, Bennett said.
“This is a great example of the Army family helping the Army family,” Berger said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Woodrow Ishman Jr., HHB, echoed his commander’s sentiment regarding the success of the march to Santa’s Castle. “Any time that we can show support to provide for those who have a need is awesome.”
If you are interested in donating to Santa’s Castle, their office is located at the corner of Pierce Avenue and North 21st Street Bldg. T-6191 on JBLM. You can contact them at 253-964-0634. For more information on Santa’s Castle go to www.JBLMsantascastle.org