FORT HOOD, Texas -- The “Happiest Place" here has officially opened its doors for the season, ready to provide thousands of toys to families across the installation.
Fort Hood’s Santa’s Workshop began its shop days Nov. 30, giving out toys to 160 children on the first day. By the end of the season, they will have given presents to more than 2,600 Fort Hood children.
“We’re able to give some peace of mind and give back to the Soldiers here on Fort Hood,” Katheryn Light, president of Santa’s Workshop, said. “For us, there’s really nothing greater.”
Shop days at Santa’s Workshop is the culmination of a year of hard work. As soon as the Christmas season is officially over, Light said they are already thinking and preparing for the next Christmas. However, she explained that for the safety of everyone, shop days will be different this year.
“If just one of us tests positive (for COVID), our whole operation shuts down,” she explained. “We are taking every precaution we can to keep our families safe, our board safe and we’re able to continue to operate.”
They limit the number of hands that touch the toys, instead of the parents shopping for their children, Santa’s Workshop elves will be shopping, with the help of a revamped application, where the parents could include their child’s interests and even specify what their child has been wanting.
Using the applications, Light said Lisa Redford, Santa’s Workshop toy buyer can target her buying needs. The non-profit organization also receives help from Fort Hood units, who host toy drive ruck marches in support of Santa’s Workshop. She said it is a joy to see the Soldiers ruck to the facility to deliver the toys and seeing firsthand how happy it makes the Soldiers.
“They’ll have Christmas lights and garland on their rucks, elf hats and Christmas suits or decked out in ugly sweaters,” she said. “It’s a fun morale boost for the Soldiers and it’s very helpful to us.”
Soldiers from the 303rd Military Intelligence Battalion, 504th Expeditionary MI Brigade, conducted a four-mile ruck march to Santa’s Workshop Nov. 13 to deliver several hundred toys for Fort Hood families. Staff Sgt. Jonathan Tradem, command financial specialist, said small gestures, like the ruck march, show how much they care about the entire Army family.
“It is important as members of command – leaders – that we make sure we engage with Soldiers,” he said. “To build that trust … This event, and others like it, are a main way to do that. It shows that we care about their family. Not just at work, but at home as well.”
Light said they are able to communicate with the units what items were needed. This year, they received more than 2,000 toys from units across post, including several Baby Yoda toys, which she said are Christmas must-haves right now.
When families arrive during their designated time to pick up toys, they will be greeted by Santa Claus, who has a seat positioned near the entrance. After checking in, their pre-bagged toys will be brought up. The hard work of the volunteers at Santa’s Workshop make shopping for Christmas one less thing for the more than 1,400 families to worry about this season.
“Whether the families are in person or we’re shopping for them, we want to provide a world-class shopping experience for them. I don’t think it will hamper the gratitude and excitement about being able to get something for their kids,” Light said. “It’s not the number of families we serve each year, it’s just knowing that our fellow military families are going to have their kids wake up and have something under the tree and that’s hugely satisfying.”
Light said they are still in need of some elf volunteers, especially during the afternoon hours, when families are picking up their children from school. To volunteer as an elf at the “Happiest Place on Fort Hood,” visit https://tiny.cc/SWSvolunteer.
“How could you not be happy around Christmas presents and Christmas trees? This is our most exciting time,” Light added. “There’s no greater privilege than to serve Soldiers and families.”
[Editor’s note: Sgt. Melissa Lessard, 504th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade Public Affairs, contributed to this article.]