Brig. Gen. Thomas Feltey, III Armored Corps deputy commanding general of maneuver, cuts the ribbon with Santa and representatives of the American Legion Riders Nov. 16 at Santa's Workshop at The Great Place. (U.S. Army photo by Blair Dupre, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs)
Brig. Gen. Thomas Feltey, III Armored Corps deputy commanding general of maneuver, cuts the ribbon with Santa and representatives of the American Legion Riders Nov. 16 at Santa's Workshop at The Great Place. (U.S. Army photo by Blair Dupre, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: Blair Dupre) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT CAVAZOS, Texas — Santa’s Workshop at The Great Place officially opened its doors for the 2023 holiday season Thursday with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Dozens gathered in the facility to celebrate all of the hard work that went into filling the workshop’s toy vault as well as the organization’s 25th anniversary.

Brig. Gen. Thomas Felty, III Armored Corps deputy commanding general of maneuver, stopped by the event to express the leadership’s support for Santa’s Workshop at The Great Place. He expressed his gratitude to the many donors and volunteers who helped to fill the vault with so many toys.

“I’ve got goosebumps thinking about it,” he said. “When our Soldiers come in here, with all the elves, and they get to pick out toys, they’re just overwhelmed with joy and happiness at the opportunity to present their kids all of these wonderful gifts. (The emotions are) overwhelming for these young families and so it is a really, really big deal.”

Marizza Stokes, president of Santa’s Workshop at The Great Place, shared that last year, the organization provided toys to more than 1,600 children, with more than 800 families applying. This year, 973 families applied to Santa’s Workshop at The Great Place, meaning the organization hopes to provide toys for around 2,000 children.

Stokes said donations have made their goal a reality and shared that the organization received the largest donation in its history from the Jack D. Levy American Legion Riders Post 573 totaling $56,000.

Board games line one of the many toy-filled shelves Nov. 16 at Santa's Workshop at The Great Place during their ribbon cutting ceremony. (U.S. Army photo by Blair Dupre, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs)
Board games line one of the many toy-filled shelves Nov. 16 at Santa's Workshop at The Great Place during their ribbon cutting ceremony. (U.S. Army photo by Blair Dupre, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: Blair Dupre) VIEW ORIGINAL

“This is the largest donation Santa’s Workshop has ever received and we don’t know how to thank you,” Stokes said before presenting representatives of the American Legion Riders with a Santa-shaped diamond donor plaque.

After acknowledging the many other donors and volunteers, guests were invited to the vault where Felty and Santa Claus himself cut the ribbon, officially opening the vault. The vault was filled with a plethora of toys for children in different age ranges. There are also sensory toys for children with special needs.

When asked how she felt seeing all of their hard work coming to fruition and large support from the community, Stokes was at a loss of words.

“We could not do the quality of toys that we do for all of our families without these donations,” she said. “When the families come through the first thing they say is, ‘Oh my goodness, these are … really amazing toys.’”

Once a family is approved, they come into the workshop and an elf is assigned to them, who takes them around the facility so they can choose stocking stuffers, two toys per child, one book per child and a family board game. Stokes shared that the total package per child totals near $125 retail value, which the families receive completely for free.

Stokes has also been able to witness the lasting impact that Santa’s Workshop at The Great Place has had on the families that it has helped.

“This past weekend we had Santa at the Spouse’s (Club) Holiday Bazaar, and it was a little fundraiser for us,” she shared. “There was a young spouse with three little ones and she was messing with her phone. I said, ‘Can I help you?’ She said, ‘I’m trying to donate. I don’t have cash.’ I said, ‘You don’t have to donate.” She said, ‘You don’t understand, you saved our Christmas last year.’ That’s why we do it.”

Stokes shared that the organization is still looking for elves to volunteer to help families pick out the best toys for their children. She expressed that none of this would be possible without volunteers and encourages those who are interested to apply.

To apply to volunteer, donate or learn more, visit forthoodsantasworkshop.com/.