For many, the holiday season is synonymous with giving and receiving. But for some military families, financial restraints and hardships make it challenging to give – particularly the junior enlisted with children. That’s where Fort Gordon Christmas House comes in.
What started out as an act of kindness by a group of nurses at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center 55 years ago has since evolved into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, made possible by the hard work and dedication of countless volunteers. And while the program has undergone many changes throughout the years, its mission remains the same: to bring joy and new toys to military families.
“It’s a program that is aimed at assisting service members during Christmastime and making an impact on service members,” said Jeanie Cabral, Christmas House president.
The program is open to active-duty service members E-1 through E-5, from all branches of service, who have children ages birth through 11. To be considered, service members must submit an application expressing a financial need. Once approved, they are notified with an appointment to “shop” at the Christmas House on Nov. 30 or Dec. 1. Upon arriving at Christmas House on their designated shopping time, service members will be greeted by volunteer elves who are not only there to assist with shopping, but who are there to spread holiday cheer. The building’s exterior where Christmas House resides blends in with the masses, but its interior is quite the contrast and intended to put guests in the holiday spirit.
“I can’t walk in here and not get goosebumps,” said Nomi Stanton, wife of Brig. Gen. Paul T. Stanton, U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon commanding general. “It’s just a magical place – I can’t explain it.”
The inside is decked out with Christmas trees, wreaths, and various other holiday decorations. The area in which service members “shop” is set up similar to what one would find in a retail store.
“This is so well-put together, the decorations are amazing … it’s just incredible all of the work that has gone in,” said Virginia Valdez, Christmas House donor and volunteer.
In an effort to keep the “Christmas magic” alive, children are not allowed inside Christmas House.
“We don’t want them coming in and looking at it and spoiling anything,” Cabral said.
Shoppers are invited to select one high-dollar and one low-dollar ($15-$20 price mark) toy per child, three stocking stuffers, a book, and one board game )per family).
“The parents have the option for one of their gifts to be a brand new bicycle … and they’re getting a helmet with it,” Cabral said.
And thanks to a partnership with Golden Harvest Food Bank this year, each family will receive a holiday meal to include a turkey.
“That’s a huge treat that a lot of them, when they applied, had no idea,” Cabral said.
The deadline to submit applications for Christmas House has passed, but the need for volunteers and donations is year-round.
Volunteers must be at least 18 years old but do not need to be affiliated with the military.
“As long as you can get on Fort Gordon, you can ‘elf’ with us,” Cabral said.
Donations are accepted in the form of new, unopened toys and by purchasing from the program’s Amazon Wish List. Donors can also contribute through PayPal, and by shopping at smile.amazon.com and selecting Fort Gordon Christmas House as their charitable organization.
Fort Gordon Christmas House is located in Brems Barracks, Building 39109, behind the Main Exchange.
Did you know?
Thanks to the help and generosity of Fort Gordon and surrounding communities, Christmas House served approximately 471 children and 266 families in 2020.
To make a donation, sign up to volunteer, or learn more information, visit the Fort Gordon Christmas House Facebook page or visit www.fortgordonchristmashouse.com.