Help brighten the upcoming holiday season for military families across the state as Santa’s Castle at Joint Base Lewis-McChord launches its ‘Christmas in July’ toy campaign.
This is the nonprofit’s 28th year of collecting and distributing Christmas gifts to the children of active-duty service members from the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and activated National Guard and Reserves.
What began through the compassion of military spouses everywhere, recognizing a need for a little extra financial support for our military heroes during the holidays—has expanded to different branches on several installations over the years.
Although each operated independently, Santa’s Castle at JBLM fosters the collaboration of ideas, information, and volunteer logistics between them as the necessity of such groups becomes even more critical in today’s economy.
The 100 percent volunteer-driven organization collects donations year-round. However, in anticipation of a greater than ever demand and an extremely busy season just six months away, they have begun the push to fill up their shelves early this year with the ‘Christmas in July’ initiative.
“We’re really focusing on getting information out there about how we serve military families in Washington, our program, and its needs,” says Santa’s Castle Board President of three years, Donna Handoe. “At this time, we’re not looking for any specific toy. We are accepting everything from board games to books and toys for ages zero to 17. Especially the toddler and teenage group, which are often difficult to shop for.”
Last year the group served over 1,245 service members’ families and added holiday cheer to the Christmases of 2,633 children.
It’s a resource hugely appreciated by the military community as the group frequently receives thankful feedback from those they serve.
“We get thank you cards, and sometimes even cookies,” says Santa’s Castle Board Secretary and longtime volunteer Shelly Hinzman. “But that’s not why we do it. It’s really special knowing that we can bring joy to our service member’s families during tough times or just to help supplement gifts that maybe they could not afford. It gives all of us an extra boost of holiday spirit.”
While holiday spirit is something they definitely aren’t short on at Santa’s Castle, the organization continues to look for ways to further its reach and serve even more military families.
“Some places are a little further away from us, so we’re working on that,” says Handoe. “For example, we’re trying to create a satellite office in Bremerton, so we have the ability to serve the Navy and Coast Guard better in that area.”
In order for service members to receive support, they must first be referred by their chain of command and accepted into the program, which occurs between October 1 through November 9.
Gifts totaling as much as $70 to $100 per child are chosen by appointment with the help of a Santa’s Castle elf in late November through early December and, in most cases, distributed after Thanksgiving.
With a number of ways to support the program, Santa’s Castle makes donating easy.
Visit the website to purchase from wish lists available at Amazon, Target, and Wal-Mart, or to make a one-time or recurring monthly monetary donation.
Another way to help is by volunteering. Volunteer support is always needed, especially during the busy season. Sign-up here to lend a hand.
“We couldn’t do any of this without our volunteers,” Co-Communications Coordinator Stephanie Curnow says. “Everyone is a volunteer here, and many of us work full or part-time jobs elsewhere and still manage to put in some serious volunteer hours. In fact, several of our volunteers have been formally recognized for their efforts.”
In addition to the generous support of its volunteers and the community, Santa’s Castle relies on partnerships with nonprofits like Project Linus, which enables them to give out over 600 new hand-made blankets each year.
“Over the years, we have been fortunate to have the generosity of many individuals and groups like Project Linus, ACU, and Seafarers Union—and so many folks who really come through for our military families and us,” says Hinzman.
Anyone can make a tax-deductible donation or drop items off during current business hours on Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Contact them directly to schedule deliveries at a different time at 253.966.2355 or visit here to view and purchase wish list items sent right to the castle.
Santa’s Castle also accepts monetary donations in the form of a check or money order mailed to Santa’s Castle, P.O. Box 33877, JBLM, WA 98433.
Help JBLM’s Santa’s Castle ease the stress of the holiday season for our men and women in uniform by supporting ‘Christmas in July’ with a donation today.