Toy experts report to Santa
By Senior Airman Justin Weaver, 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 30, 2006
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
Santa's top "advisors" convened at the Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska for the first-ever "Top of the World Toy Summit" Nov. 29.
While none of Santa's advisors hold a college degree, or have ever worked at a major toy company, they did have one thing in common - they were all toy experts.
These toy experts were 5 to 10-year-old military children, who served as toy testers and "ambassadors of fun" during the morning festivities.
Operation Homefront, a nonprofit support agency for military servicemembers, selected 20 military children, their siblings and a parent for a trip to attend the "Top of the World Toy Summit" with Santa, courtesy of Wal-Mart. Five children were selected from the 'lower 48' states, while 15 were selected from military bases in Alaska.
The children's excitement was written on their faces as they were greeted by Mrs. Clause while walking into Santa's toy-filled house.
"We heard about the contest less than two weeks ago," said Tech. Sgt. 354th Grace Lamoureux, 354th Communications Squadron. "We filled out an application and found out last week that we had been selected."
Sergeant Lamoureux has two 5-year-old twin boys who were thrilled to find out they would be seeing Santa.
"This was their first up-close and personal with Santa and they couldn't wait to meet him," said Sergeant Lamoureux.
The Toy Summit agenda featured Wal-Mart's resident toy expert, Scott McCall, who provided insight on the season's hottest toys. McCall also advised Santa on proper inventory protocol to make sure all deserving children wake up Christmas morning with their most-requested gifts beneath the tree.
McCall then guided the children through five different toy stations where they were able to test this year's latest toys.
On hand was Fairbanks meteorologist Kelly Songster, who helped predict Christmas weather patterns to help guide Santa's reindeer this year. She also recommended the best routes for Santa to safely travel across the globe.
Several of the highlights for the children included an individual sitting and photo with Santa, milk and cookies and a brand new toy for Christmas.
"I talked to Santa and it was cool," said Royce Lamoureux.
Operation Homefront spearheaded the Top of the World Toy Summit in hopes of providing a fun-filled day for the children of servicemembers.
"I hope the children leave here saying they had a really great day," said Michael Donohue, Operation Homefront National Director of Development. "Our military members face many challenges people don't know about. Our troops pay a high price when they deploy, leaving behind their spouse and children to deal with everything."
Events like the toy summit are what Mr. Donohue is glad to be a part of.
"Operation Homefront is proud to have a part in bringing joy to these military children," he said. "We are a safety net for families of deployed and wounded warriors."
Wal-mart contributed more than $30,000 to this event and donated more than 550 toys to Alaska military members, including, 1,500 $20 gift cards.
"We are a big supporter of the military and glad we can help touch a child's life," said Tim Ericson, Fairbanks Wal-mart manager. "We are isolated here in Alaska and it's important to focus on the community and our servicemembers."
Operation Homefront's Alaska chapter president, Sharlotte Sandstede, echoed Mr. Ericson's support.
"We are here to give unconditional support to our military families, especially during the holiday season," she said.
Military spouses are encouraged to visit Operation Homefront's Web site at www.operationhomefront.net. Operation Homefront provides:
· Emergency Aid - Food, baby care items, vehicle donation and repair.
· Computer Program - Allows children and spouses to stay in touch with their loved one.
· Financial Assistance Program - Crises such as illness, homelessness and death.
· Furniture Program - Donated household and baby furniture; working order appliances.
· Moving - Providing physical labor for families when a service member is deployed.
· Social Outreach - Adopt-a-family, Thanksgiving/holiday baskets, back-to-school supplies.
· Military Mondays - Promotes military discounts at businesses throughout the country.
Another beneficial Web site for military spouses is www.CinCHouse.com. Operation Homefront's CinCHouse.com is the largest online magazine and web-based community for military wives, girlfriends and women in uniform.