Bringing Holiday Fun to our Active Military
Santa’s Castle elves deliver gifts to thousands of children
By Rachel Kelly
Year-round, or so the story goes, Santa is hard at work in his workshop. He’s making his list and checking it twice (or thrice); maybe adding some last-minute do-gooders and scratching off a few rock-throwers. He’s thinking and saving, building and collecting, just the right gifts for the children around the world. Aided by his loyal band of elves, sawing can be heard in the arctic, even in the summer months. He might take Mrs. Claus on a scenic sleigh ride here and there, hot chocolate in hand, and who could blame him? There’s lots of kids in the world. And yet, through tireless and continuous effort, Santa oversees the building of the toys. Stocks the stockings. Eats the Christmas cookies. On Christmas Day, we wake to his handiwork. This is how the story is told, but it’s just a fairy tale. But is it? While Santa may not be exactly the one doing all the work, there is one such organization that works tirelessly year-round to bring gifts to thousands of children. Its name is Santa’s Castle.
Santa’s Castle gives generously to active military and their families around the holiday season, providing gifts free of charge to service members' families. “We at Santa's Castle know that our service members sacrifice a lot for our country—and with that sacrifice comes a lot of personal and financial stress. We feel that service members and their families should not have to experience any difficulty in providing for their children during the holidays,” says Donna Handoe, president of Santa’s Castle.
Our active military put a lot aside to prioritize the safety and security for those of us home for the holidays. Their sacrifice is recognized as a significant and worthy one that puts them and their families under a lot of pressure. One thing they shouldn’t have to sacrifice is the precious time spent with their families during the Christmas season. “This is a small area that we are fully equipped to help with,” says Donna. And help they do! Santa’s Castle ensures that service members focus on family by putting their army of “elf” volunteers to work, delivering the holiday fun without the stress. Santa’s Castle brings much-needed financial and emotional relief on the holidays for our service members.
There are a lot of positives to Santa’s Castle, but one of the big ones is the support they receive. Santa’s Castle has functioned for 29 years as a completely volunteer-run organization. As such, there is very little overhead and no salaries to pay. This ensures that funds donated go directly to buying and stocking shelves with toys. With an 18-person Board of Directors and 150 volunteers (elves), Santa’s Castle works to ensure a successful toy distribution. Much like in Santa’s workshop, Santa’s Castle works year-round with precision, compassion and thought to the families they serve.
Last year, during the 2022 Christmas season, Santa’s Castle searched for, bought, accepted, stocked and distributed $386,381 worth of toys to service members’ families. Families are recommended by chaplains and commanders; there is no need to volunteer or sign up. Recipients include the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine, Coast Guard and Reserve families—all active branches of the military. This amounts to somewhere around 1,023 service members and 2,311 children. Each family chooses the gifts that their children receive to ensure that children really receive what they’re looking forward to getting. As such, the value of the gifts that each family receives varies. However, each child generally receives $150 to $200 in toys, games, books, stocking stuffers and coats. Everything from the little to the big is taken care of, especially providing relief for families in situations with loved ones arriving last minute from overseas.
While there are many similarities of Santa’s Castle to the classic tale, there is one big difference in that the difficult and special work they do isn’t reserved for the North Pole. The service that Santa’s Castle provides is made possible because of the many generous donations from the larger community, including local businesses, banks, and city-run organizations. In other words, without you, such a wonderful program would not be possible!
For more information on how you can be involved (perhaps this year you’d like to be an elf?), check out JBLMSantasCastle.org and give JOY this Christmas!