FORT CAVAZOS, Texas — Soldiers of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, completed 11 consecutive “Ruck Sack Marches” in the course of two months, toting donated toys to Santa’s Workshop at The Great Place here.
“It’s great to help out the greater Fort Cavazos community and bond with our unit while contributing to a great cause,” said 1st Lt. Brian Alegre, 91st Engineer Battalion, 1st ABCT, 1st Cav. Div.
Santa’s Workshop at the Great Place started in the mid-1980s as a battalion-level organization with Soldiers and families of the then named 13th Support Command (Corps) — now the 13th Armored Corps Sustainment Command.
It continues its mission today as an installation-wide 501(C) non-profit which will be working this holiday season Nov. 27 to Dec. 4 to provide gifts and holiday cheer for up to 915 U.S. Army families - including an anticipated more than 2,000 children, with the help of 14 board members and hundreds of volunteers, aptly named Elves.
“The families are my favorite thing to see,” said the Santa’s Workshop President Marizza Stokes, “We had Santa at the (Spouse’s Club) Bazaar this past two weekends ago, and there was a young lady with three little ones. She gave us a $20 donation just to take one photo and I told her, ‘Thank you so much,’ and she looked at me and said, ‘You saved my Christmas last year.’
“That’s why we do it,” she continued, “for the families where there is a need — if there is a need, we are going to fill it.”
The ruck sack marches involved elements of the 1ABCT, 1st Cavalry Division, where Soldiers dressed in holiday PT gear marched from Lancer Field to Santa’s Workshop at the Great Place during the temperate Texas dawn, from Oct. 1 to Nov. 22 to fill shopping carts with toys for children.
The shopping carts then went to fill the workshop, lining shelves full of toys, books and games to set up the cheerful shopping experience, where families who have been approved will be able to watch their children receive gifts from Santa’s Elves.
“We’ll have all the children’s names and information by age and gender,” explained Stokes, “we have them lined up where our head elf directs the other elves to shop with the families.
“They pick up a sheet, go through and pick out a stocking stuffer,” she continued, “then go into our toy vault to pick out a present.”
For Soldiers like Sgt. Anthony Respicio, 91st Engineer Battalion, the cycle of giving is why he chose to participate in the Ruck March.
“I have four kids and my family has received toys from Santa’s Workshop,” he said, “it’s nice to give back.”