• Chicago Bulls Forward, Andres Nocioni, puts the finishing touches on a Christmas tree.  Members of the Bulls assisted the children in decorating several Christmas trees during the party.

    Military Family Appreciation Luncheon

    Chicago Bulls Forward, Andres Nocioni, puts the finishing touches on a Christmas tree. Members of the Bulls assisted the children in decorating several Christmas trees during the party.

  • Santa Claus poses with Lance Cpl. James Dillingham, (left), Gunnery Sgt. Michael Michalski, (center) and Sgt. Matthew Shimizu, (right) at a holiday party for deployed military member's children sponsored by the Chicago Bulls.

    Military Family Appreciation Luncheon

    Santa Claus poses with Lance Cpl. James Dillingham, (left), Gunnery Sgt. Michael Michalski, (center) and Sgt. Matthew Shimizu, (right) at a holiday party for deployed military member's children sponsored by the Chicago Bulls.

  • Young fans of Chicago Bulls Center, Joakim Noah, signs autographs for deployed military member's children at a holiday party sponsored by the Chicago USO and the Chicago Bulls, Monday Dec 8.

    Military Family Appreciation Luncheon

    Young fans of Chicago Bulls Center, Joakim Noah, signs autographs for deployed military member's children at a holiday party sponsored by the Chicago USO and the Chicago Bulls, Monday Dec 8.

  • Lisa Salazar gives Santa Claus a big hug at the luncheon.  Santa gave out his autograph and had his photo taken with the children.

    Military Family Appreciation Luncheon

    Lisa Salazar gives Santa Claus a big hug at the luncheon. Santa gave out his autograph and had his photo taken with the children.

  • Chicago Bulls Power Forward/Center, Michael Ruffin, signs autographs for deployed military member's children at a holiday party sponsored by the Chicago USO and the Chicago Bulls.

    Military Family Appreciation Luncheon

    Chicago Bulls Power Forward/Center, Michael Ruffin, signs autographs for deployed military member's children at a holiday party sponsored by the Chicago USO and the Chicago Bulls.

  • Chicago Bulls Guard, Kirk Hinrich, signs a basketball for one of his fans in the crowd of children at the luncheon.

    Military Family Appreciation Luncheon

    Chicago Bulls Guard, Kirk Hinrich, signs a basketball for one of his fans in the crowd of children at the luncheon.

  • Enthusiastic children wait for the ball after watching Benny perform his over-the-back throw.

    Military Family Appreciation Luncheon

    Enthusiastic children wait for the ball after watching Benny perform his over-the-back throw.

  • The Chicago Bulls mascot, Benny, throws the basketball to a crowd of fans who take turns tossing the ball into the basket on the other side of the gymnasium.

    Military Family Appreciation Luncheon

    The Chicago Bulls mascot, Benny, throws the basketball to a crowd of fans who take turns tossing the ball into the basket on the other side of the gymnasium.

  • Benny, (left), Chicago Bulls mascot, entertains deployed military member's children at a holiday party sponsored the Chicago USO and the Chicago Bulls.

    Military Family Appreciation Luncheon

    Benny, (left), Chicago Bulls mascot, entertains deployed military member's children at a holiday party sponsored the Chicago USO and the Chicago Bulls.

CHICAGO - The greater Chicago USO and Chicago Bulls paired up at the Berto Center in Deerfield to host a holiday party for children of deployed service members. Children came from around the Chicago area to collect autographs, shoot baskets and be with members of the Chicago Bulls.

While dozens of excited children and their parents lined the hallways of the Chicago Bulls Academy, Benny, the Chicago Bulls mascot, greeted and lead them into the gymnasium where the holiday party was getting started.

Benny frolicked with the squealing, giggling children during lunch and later played with the children. Several players on the Bulls team, came out to autograph banners and basketballs for the crowds of children.

All Chicago Bulls members were delighted to be there for the families. "It's great to come out here and see the smiles on kids' faces," said Chicago Bulls Center Michael Ruffin. "Anytime you come out and see a kid and you see the genuine happiness on their face, it's an inspiration to me, to my teammates, and everybody."

Jolly 'ol Santa Claus even paid a visit. "It's an honor to be here around all these kids. It's a heartwarming feeling," said Santa.

The holiday party meant a lot to the families who were missing their loved ones over the holidays. Jennifer Asaro from Naperville, Ill. was at the luncheon with her two daughters. Her husband, serving in Afghanistan, Spc. Jaime Salazar, is an infantryman in the Illinois National Guard.

"We're very proud of you," Asaro said as a message to her husband. "We miss you. We love you. You and your guys be safe. Come back home."

Alexis Asaro, 8, also had a message for her daddy. "I'm very proud of my dad because if he didn't sign up to be in the Army, we wouldn't be here, so we're very proud of him and thankful our daddy is a hero."

Chicago Bulls Forward Cedric Simmons has a sister serving overseas. "I kind of understand the feelings that these kids have. I actually have a sister who's in the military right now serving in Afghanistan. I worry every day about her safety," said Simmons.

Simmons' message to the deployed service members is one of gratitude. "I just want to say thank you for everything. I appreciate all the hard stuff that they're doing. Just keep up the good work."

For the past 67 years, the mission of the USO is to be the primary bridge between the American people and America's Armed Forces, delivering a unique combination of morale building, counseling, and recreational services to our troops and their families all over the world.

The USO is chartered by Congress as a nonprofit, charitable corporation. However, the USO is not part of the U.S. government. Instead, it is funded almost entirely by donations from individuals, organizations, and corporations. A full 89A,Ac out of every $1.00 donated to the USO is spent on the delivery of programs and services to our troops.

Page last updated Thu December 11th, 2008 at 16:07