As a child, Lisa Bennett remembers volunteering with her church to assemble and deliver food baskets to deserving families around the holidays. All year long, she and her sister put aside a portion of their weekly allowances, saving to purchase and donate Christmas gifts for children.
Now, as the secretary of Santas Castle and Joint Base Lewis-McChords January Volunteer of the Month, Bennett continues to nurture that giving spirit by focusing on the needs of military families.
Santas Castle is a JBLM organization, completely donor funded and volunteer supported, that provides toys to children of service members E-4 and below in financial need. Last Christmas, Bennett and other staff members received 850 referrals to Santas Castle from unit commanders, first sergeants and chaplains.
We saw so many families this year that had just crazy circumstances. Some of these Soldiers (and Airmen) are really young with families and they have a lot of responsibilities, Bennett said. But we met a lot of commanders and first sergeants who were really wonderful and really knew their service members and wanted to help them, so that was nice to see how much they cared.
Bennett is no stranger to devoting her time to worthy causes. In addition to working at Santas Castle for the last three holiday seasons, she volunteers for two pet-based charities in Thurston County. One delivers pet food and supplies to individuals served by Meals on Wheels, and the other provides spaying and neutering services to feral cats.
Ive always volunteered. I cant imagine not doing something like this, Bennett said. I dont do it for recognition; I do it because I can.
As a former hospital administrator, Bennett said she was on a career track working 70 hours a week until she met and married her husband, Lt. Col. Ian Bennett.
I never aspired to be anyones spouse, let alone an Army spouse, Bennett said. But its the best decision I ever made.
That good decision landed her at JBLM in spring 2010, and Bennett started volunteering at Santas Castle that Christmas season. She insists she is just one of many who contribute to the organizations success.
We all work so hard. I dont feel like I did anything different than anybody else who volunteers here, she said. We all just want to make a difference.
Because of PCS moves, Santas Castle will soon be losing half its board members, and even though the bulk of the organizations work doesnt begin until late summer, there is work to do all year.
There are always opportunities to volunteer, Bennett said. There are always people that need help and there are always people that can help them. Its just finding that match.