By Contributing Editor Blair Drake
The Olympia Area (Wash.) Chapter is once again helping to make the holiday season brighter for local children in need by supporting Santa’s Castle at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Since 1994, Santa’s Castle has provided gifts to the children of Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, National Guard, and Reserve families experiencing financial difficulty. In 2021, 2,633 children from 1,245 families were served by Santa’s Castle, with nearly $220,000 in toys, books, sports balls, games, bikes, and stocking stuffers given out.
According to Col. Dave Slotwinski, USA (Ret), chapter vice president, the chapter has been supporting Santa’s Castle for more than a decade and in numerous ways. Each year from September through November, the chapter collects monetary contributions to donate to Santa’s Castle.
“The contributions are critical to making Santa’s Castle successful in achieving its mission,” he said. The chapter donates between $1,200 and $2,000 annually.
Members also volunteer as elves during toy-distribution days to assist servicemembers and spouses shopping for their children at the castle.
Additionally, for the past five-plus years, the chapter has been collecting sports balls to donate. Slotwinski pointed out that not only are sports balls a good gift for children of all ages, but they also encourage families to get outside and play.
The ball collection culminates with the annual ball drop, which this year was held Nov. 19 at Northwest Harley Davidson. During that event, volunteers inflate and then deliver to Santa’s Castle all the sports balls that have been donated.
Community members and organizations as well as other MOAA chapters throughout the state collect and donate sports balls to help the Olympia Area Chapter meet its goal, which this year was 1,000 balls.
Slotwinski said the reason the chapter supports this cause is simple. “Our chapter is committed to helping servicemembers and their families,” he said. “When you see families in tears because they know their children will get a gift, that’s the satisfaction of supporting [Santa’s Castle].”
Blair Drake is a contributing editor for MOAA and lives in Souderton, Pa. She previously served on the editorial team of Military Officer magazine for nine years.