A small family readiness group is having a big impact on Fort Benning kids this holiday. The eight-member FRG for E Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, asked families planning to attend the company’s basic training graduation Tuesday to bring toy donations for Santa’s Castle, the nonprofit charity that provides toys to needy Fort Benning families during the holiday season. The response was “tremendous,” said FRG leader Rhonda Young, wife of the company’s commander, Capt. John Young.
Toys were still rolling in at press time, but Young said she predicted there were at least 500 donated toys, including a carload from a couple that wished to remain anonymous. Families started delivering the toys at the company’s “meet and greet” Sunday night hosted at CiCi’s Pizza in Columbus. The casual event brings together families of the graduating Soldiers and cadre of E Company, including the commander, first sergeant and drill sergeants.
“The families are dying to be connected so we gave them a call to action,” said Dana Haines, who came up with the idea early this month to use the company’s Facebook page to reach out to families and ask them to donate toys. “I think it really pulled at their heartstrings because they knew the toys would go to Fort Benning children.”
Che Russell brought three bags of toys, she said, because “it made us feel like we were helping.”
Russell, a former Navy nurse, was in town for son-in-law Spc. David Johnson’s graduation. Since many of the graduating Soldiers’ spouses are new to Army life, Russell said both E Company’s Facebook page and toy drive have introduced them early on to how FRGs work and benefit the families.
“I know how much they helped me when my husband was in Iraq. These families can see what a difference it makes,” she said. The FRG leader said the toys will be given to Santa’s Castle the week after Thanksgiving as a large donation on behalf of the entire graduating class.
Santa’s Castle has been serving Fort Benning since 1986 and provides kids with approximately $125 worth of toys. The charity supports approximately 450 families and 1,000 children each year, according to charity officials. Kids receive three toys, stocking stuffers, books, a stuffed animal and a game for the family.
For more information, to volunteer or to make a donation, call 706-685-4422.
Santa’s Castle has moved!
The charity is now located inside Building 262 in the “warehouse district” off Edwards Street.