JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Junior enlisted Soldiers from the 201st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade, in association with the City of Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce, continued their tradition of service and goodwill this holiday with another strong donation of gifts to Santa's Castle, a nonprofit organization located on Joint Base Lewis-McChord that provides Christmas gifts to military families (primarily E-4 and below) who are experiencing financial hardship.
According to Santa's Castle's website, "Service Members are identified by their Chain of Command- Commander, Chaplain, [first sergeant] and above-and referred to the program. Once accepted, the service member is scheduled for a shopping appointment where they come to Santa's Castle to select gifts for their child or children."
The Soldiers present at last week's donation are all members of the 201st E-MIB Junior Enlisted Council. They donated nearly a hundred recently collected new toys and donations worth more than $2,700 to the dedicated group of Santa's Castle volunteers that work year-round collecting donations of new toys, books, games, bicycles, stocking stuffers, coloring books, and crayons which they distribute to families in need during the two weeks immediately following Thanksgiving.
According to Shelly Hinzman, Santa's Castle President, and Chief Elf, "we are trying to take care of those who take care of us. We are not affiliated with the military - we serve the military - but we are all military spouses, retiree spouses, retirees, and soldiers that come and volunteer with Santa's Castle. It's a great opportunity for us to pay back."
The donated toys were collected up by the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce during a recent holiday gala and gifted to Santa's Castle by way of the 201st E-MIB JEC, who make up the nucleus of the brigade's junior leaders, according to the 201st Brigade Command Sergeant Major, Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Jose Melendez.
"The Junior Enlisted Council is composed of non-promotable Soldiers in the grades of E-4 and below from throughout the brigade," said Melendez. "They are empowered to identify issues that affect all Soldiers and develop solutions to mitigate those problems. It is part of the Brigade's Leader Development program."
JEC's acting president, Pvt. 1st Class Shelby Flack, said this contribution from the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce to Santa's Castle is just the first of many the group hopes to make to people in need in their community, and particularly the brigade's community partner, Gig Harbor.
"Today's donation is a beginning step to something the JEC plans to continue and build on," said Flack.
Santa's Castle operates solely on donations from without. According to Shelly Hinzman, Santa's Castle President, and Chief Elf, their operation takes in no income. Everything they have in their facility, to include all the toys they give out, has been donated or purchased with donated funds.
"We don't sell anything or make anything and everything is generally turned right into toys," said Hinzman. "We have a purchasing elf who goes and purchases with monetary donations, but a big bulk of the donations we receive are from the units [and the surrounding communities]."
Melendez added that the brigade was especially thankful to Gig Harbor for their substantial donation.
"From the galas and social events to the dragon boat races and Military Appreciation Day, we could not do what we do without their support for our Soldiers and Families," Melendez said. "Their donation of all these toys to Santa's Castle is just another example of their generosity and appreciation for all our Soldiers and Families."
If you care to donate to Santa's Castle, it's never too late. Donations can be made year-round by either dropping off your donation at the castle, located at 2094 Bitar Avenue on JBLM Main Post, mailing a check or money order to their PO Box, or using the PayPal link on their website, jblmsantascastle.org.