FORT BENNING, Ga. - You may not be thinking about Christmas, but the elves of Santa's Castle know it's never too early to plan for the holiday. In preparation, they're holding the fourth annual Elf Run fundraiser May 15 at Stewart-Watson Field.

All the proceeds help supply toys for children of Fort Benning Soldiers who wouldn't otherwise have them at Christmas, said Tiffani Cunningham, vice president for the local nonprofit organization and an official Santa's Castle "elf."

"We're here because there are those families who are struggling," she said. "Toys are something they cannot afford, but they still want to provide something for their children - that's where we come in."

Since the Elf Run is their only fundraiser of the year, Santa's Castle volunteers "try to make it as big as we can," Cunningham said.

The event kicks off with registration at 7 a.m. and a 5K run at 8 a.m. The Family Fun Walk, a one-mile stroll around the Stewart-Watson Field track, starts at 8:30 a.m.

Hints of yuletide make this run unlike others - Christmas music plays at the beginning of the event, and the awards are "not just some medal you put in a box and forget about," Cunningham said. They're custom-made Santa's Castle Christmas ornaments.

"This will be my third year being a part of (the Elf Run)," she said.

"It's fun. It's lighthearted. It's stress-free. I think it's a family-centered event."

The 5K isn't overly competitive, Cunningham said, so it's perfect for runners of all ability levels and units who want to run in formation. Awards are given for first, second and third place in three categories: men, women and 18 and younger. All children who participate will receive a ribbon.

If you don't win an award, you'll still have a shot at one of the door prizes, which include IMAX tickets and gift certificates. Donate a present to Santa's Castle to receive a second raffle ticket.

Gifts can be newly purchased toys, stuffed animals, puzzles, games and even bikes. Santa's Castle provides presents for toddlers through teenagers, and the number of families they support increases every year.

"Last year, we served right around 1,000 children," Cunningham said.

To support Santa's Castle, sign up for the run and walk by Saturday.

Early registration is $15 for individuals, including a T-shirt, or $10 without a shirt, and $35 for families of three or more, including T-shirts. If your registration is postmarked after Saturday, the cost is an additional $5. T-shirts are given out while supplies last.

Register online at www.active.com, listing 1849716. For more information, e-mail fortbenningsantascastle@gmail.com or visit www.santascastle.org.

Page last updated Thu April 29th, 2010 at 15:19