Santa's Castle enlists help of JBLM Stryker soldiers
November 22, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - A special delivery was made to Santa's Castle Nov. 18, and the deliverymen didn't even have to travel to the North Pole.
Santa's Castle, located on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., has a specific mission, and that's to provide as many holiday gifts as possible to struggling military families and their children during the holiday season.
"We're completely independent. We're not for profit. We're all unpaid volunteers. Everything you see here is donated or bought with donated money," said Lisa Bennett, president of Santa's Castle.
Learning of this after a brief from Bennett, the soldiers and families of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 2-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division decided to hold a toy drive, Nov. 12-15, and made its delivery to the castle on the morning of Nov. 18.
"Giving is always a [great] thing to do. It's good for the heart. It's good for the soul. Santa's Castle is definitely a great program that should be utilized," said Sgt. Miguel Romero, a Dexter, N.M.b native with the 2-1 Infantry. "I was speaking with a [volunteer] here and they give all their toys away every year; they start with an empty building every year, so they need help for donations. Not only that, kids deserve a couple gifts for the holiday. You know, feel loved, and feel part of a family, and feel part of a team."
The organizer of the toy drive was the 2-1 Infantry battalion commander, Lt. Col. Michael Trotter, and after seeing the car full of toys raised by the soldiers and families of his organization, he said, "[This] confirms everything we already know about our soldiers ... they're awesome!"
"Regardless of what you ask of them, if it's a mission deployed, a mission in a [continental United States] type environment, our soldiers are always ready and willing to step up. They stepped up big time for this particular event because it gives back to soldiers, and they recognize the importance of our families and our children. They had no problem," added Trotter.
The organization expects to help some 3,700 struggling military families this year.
"Last year we gave out about $106 thousand worth of new toys; we served 877 kids, roughly," said Bennett. "This year we've already accepted 3,700 kids into our program, so we still have a lot more work to do to accommodate all those children. When you think about 3,700 children each getting three toys, plus they're each getting two books, a coloring book, a set of crayons, a game, stocking stuffers, we will clean everything out of this building."
The donations received throughout the year from military personnel and their families to those from the surrounding vendors and businesses had Santa's Castle looking more like Santa's workshop. Toys were piled into long shelves categorized by age, gender, and value, along with a back storage room and four containers outside the building.
"Everything we bring in this year we are likely going to give back out. It ends up being about $85 per child by the time we average it out," said Bennett.
This is an achievement Santa's Castle is proud of, especially as the nonprofit organization operates with less than 5 percent of overhead costs.
For every dollar donated to Santa's Castle, .95 cents will go back out, said Bennett.
This is the 19th year in operation for Santa's Castle and the organization has come a long way since its inception.
"When Santa's Castle was first founded, it was a group of ladies who accepted used toys and used donations, and they repaired those toys. They washed doll hair, and repaired doll clothes, [or] whatever they needed to do to make those used items presentable and good as new," said Bennett. "Now its just new toys, new items. Everything you see in here is brand new."
Trotter best summed up the Santa's Castle mission when he said, "[This is] absolutely amazing. You talk about volunteers that come in here and do this, again giving back to our soldiers and our families. There really aren't the words to describe it. A lot times we see so many negative things in our society. You come here to feel good, and I feel very, very good about what we saw here today."