Santa's Castle spreads holiday cheer
September 10, 2009
FORT BENNING, GA - A stuffed animal for a toddler, a new bike for a teenager, a board game for the family - that's what Santa's Castle does, said Tiffani Cunningham, publicity coordinator for Santa's Castle.
The nonprofit organization lets Soldiers who are facing financial hardship pick out toys to give as Christmas presents to their children - "like a Toys R Us, only smaller, with that family feel," Cunningham said.
Each year, Santa's Castle receives a bulk of its funds from the Soldiers and Families Support Association, but with the economic downturn in recent years, the amount of money donated has declined, too, said Jeffrey Saeli, chairperson for Santa's Castle.
In better years, Santa's Castle has received as much as $10,000 from SFSA, Saeli said, which helps the staff make Christmas that much better for military families.
"To see them come in and to see their faces, to help them provide a better holiday for their children is rewarding," he said. "We're a 100 percent volunteer organization. Our only monthly expense is our phone bill. All the rest of the money goes to the purchase of toys."
SFSA, funded primarily through the Combined Federal Campaign, supports a variety of private organizations on post. These include Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Parent Teacher Associations and the Army Community Service Volunteer Support Association.
The money is divided among the organizations based on need, said Barbara Singleton, secretary for SFSA. Santa's Castle, with its family-focused mission, receives one of the largest shares.
Singleton has seen that mission in action firsthand as a volunteer, or "elf," at Santa's Castle.
"For most of them, it has really made a difference, and I see that every time I go there," she said. "You see their faces light up. Some of them are in tears - in a good way - because of the quality of the (toys). They're just so grateful because they're able to give that extra to their children, because they feel someone cares. They see that through Santa's Castle they're able to do a little better for their families."
Giving to SFSA means giving to the military family, Singleton said, and that's what happens when people designate SFSA as the organization they want to donate to through CFC.
"The more money we have to give out, the more support we can give to the families ... enhancing their quality of life," she said.
For more information about Santa's Castle, visit www.santascastle.org. For information about how to donate to the CFC, contact your key person.
Santa: Laura Miller, Joanna Thomas and Tiffani Cunningham show off some of the goodies currently in the Santa's Castle storeroom. These items and more will be on display when the store opens in December to Soldiers and families, selected by their chain of command, who are in financial need during the Christmas season. Toys are arranged by level, including "gold" and "silver," and the age and gender they are geared toward.