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Holiday giving

Deadline for Santa’s Castle referrals fast approaching

Northwest Guardian

Published: 01:33PM October 24th, 2013

Santa’s Castle is coming to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and time is running out for officers and senior enlisted service members to refer subordinates to the program.

The annual event, run by a company-sized group of volunteer-elves, allows qualifying families to pick out donated Christmas toys for their children.

“We see most of our referrals come from our first sergeants and chaplains,” said Lisa Bennett, Santa’s Castle president. “We target them more, because they know those families.”

Commanders who don’t have paperwork to refer families can pick up forms from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, at Santa’s Castle on Tacoma Avenue on Lewis Main.

The deadline to turn in paperwork is Nov. 1.

Two big changes this year involve reservists and National Guard Soldiers, and Airmen from McChord Field.

Bennett said the nonprofit’s by-laws stated reservists and Guardsmen needed to be deployed to be eligible for referral by commanders. The board relaxed that requirement, allowing National Guard and reservists who are currently working to be referred. The relaxation applies to any reserve or National Guard units in the state.

Bennett also said she hopes to see more Airmen referred from McChord Field. Of the 837 families served by Santa’s Castle in 2012, only 13 were from the Air Force.

“I think we’re not on their radar,” Bennett said. “The McChord folks don’t drive by here.”

Bennett said she and other volunteers have attended briefings at McChord Field to let Air Force SNCOs and officers know about Santa’s Castle.

After commanders refer grades E4 and below, service members and/or their spouses get the chance to go through the shelves of toys, sorted by the child’s sex and age, and pick out one “top-shelf” toy, one “mid-shelf” toy, and one “lower-shelf” toy.

The toys, all of them two years old or less, are rated by their cost, Bennett said. The average toys-per-child is about $85 worth, plus stocking stuffers.

Families also get to take home one age-appropriate board game, books and a bonus Barbie doll or toy car package.

Bennett said during the 10 days Santa’s Castle is open for business, four families are served, on average, every 15 minutes.

“When you’ve got daddies shopping for little girls, it takes time,” Bennett said.

It isn’t just about commanders turning in paperwork, however. People who want to give or volunteer have a wide range of options, Bennett said.

Anyone who wants to try being an elf — which involves guiding families as they shop and stocking the dozens and dozens of stored toys — can email

People who want to donate new-in-the-box toys or make cash donations can stop by Santa’s Castle during office hours, or drop checks in the secure box on the side of the building.

Bennett said presents for teen girls and children 2 and younger are the hardest to keep stocked, so donations in those categories are especially welcome.

Food and water donations also are encouraged, as the “elves” usually work all day with no breaks.

“All of our donations go back to the military community,” Bennett said. “You might have a military family out in the community that can get Toys for Tots, but we know that if they are referred (to this program), they’re going to get taken care of.”