Visit with Santa
Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Mabanag (right) , command sergeant major of the 504th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade, speaks with Santa Claus during the Santa's Workshop grand opening ceremony at Fort Hood, Texas, Nov. 16. (Photo Credit: Brandy Cruz, Fort Hood Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT HOOD, Texas - Over the years, Santa Claus has watched people come and go from Santa’s Workshop here, but the spirit of the season always remains the same.

“They know what it’s all about and they do it,” Santa Claus said about the volunteers who make Santa’s Workshop possible. “Working with the kids is part of it, but watching the adults and them wanting the children to have a good Christmas is what it’s all about.”

Now in its 37th year at Fort Hood, Santa’s Workshop was originally created by 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command in 1985. Understanding the need to reach more families, the Fort Hood Spouses’ Club expanded it into an installation-level organization in 1998, but the 13th ESC and the 13th Corps Support Command Association have remained heavily involved. The 501(c)(3) non-profit organization helps thousands of children have a memorable Christmas. Helping approximately 2,500 children each year, it is estimated that Santa’s Workshop has helped more than 92,000 children since its inception.

“Sometimes, it comes down to, ‘Are we gonna go home for Christmas or are we gonna get Timmy and Annie Christmas presents,’” Santa explained. “We’re here to say, ‘Go ahead and go home … and take these presents with you!’”

Alleviating some of the stress of the busy holiday season, Santa’s Workshop helps families by relieving some of the financial burden that comes with this time of year.

“This is all about helping our military families, especially during the holidays,” Chella Stokoe, Santa’s Workshop president, added. “We’re making sure they have a little something under their trees, to take a little stress off their lives. It makes it all worth it.”

In a typical year, a family would come in at a designated time, have an elf help them shop for their children and then check out. However, with COVID-19 protocols still in place, the elf is shopping for the children again this year. Each child receives a stocking stuffer, a book, two toys and a game for the family. Each child can request specific toys and Santa’s Workshop tries their best to make a child’s wish list a possibility. Stokoe said this year’s wish lists were different than normal.

“There are a lot of surprising things – STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), sporting equipment, outdoorsy things, arts and crafts, books, puzzles,” she said about this year’s gift requests.

Browsing books
Heather Munday points out a book on a shelf to her husband, Command Sgt. Maj. Shade Munday, command sergeant major of the 1st Cavalry Division, while the couple toured Santa's Workshop following its grand opening ceremony at Fort Hood, Texas, Nov. 16. (Photo Credit: Brandy Cruz, Fort Hood Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

Gifts and monetary donations are donated to Santa’s Workshop from local businesses, organizations, individuals and units. Many units host toy drive ruck marches, with Soldiers dressing in their best holiday attire as they deliver the donated toys to the workshop.

This year, Santa’s Workshop tried out an online application for the first time. Stokoe said that while there were a few hiccups, the overall process went smoothly on their end.

Shop days will run from Nov. 29-Dec. 3. Families can pick up their child’s toys at their designated time. While there, they will have the opportunity to wave to Santa Claus. Santa has volunteered with Santa’s Workshop for 17 years, making him their most dedicated volunteer.

“He is absolutely amazing,” Stokoe shared. “He’s the heart and soul of Santa’s Workshop.”