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Posts Tagged ‘fallen military heroes’

copyright 2016, Susan DeLay

Every time the ASPCA commercial for shelter dogs comes on TV, I have to change the channel. I can’t watch the forlorn, unknown-1frightened eyes of abused puppies while Sarah McLachlan sings “Arms of an Angel.” It gets me every time, and if hadn’t started changing the channel, my home would resemble a kennel and kibble would be a line item in my budget.

The ASPCA must have spies who know what that commercial does to me because they’ve started sending me mail. They’re soliciting my donation to make the horrible cruelty to animals stop. ASPCA will be among the organizations I consider when I make my yearend charitable contributions.

‘Tis the season.

Most of my donations will go to pay for my exorbitant health insurance premiums. Although I did see a man standing near an intersection and holding a cardboard sign on which he’d written, “Will work for insurance.” But let’s not go there.

I will have a few dollars to divide among favorite charities. It’s a ritual. Before New Year’s, I turn on the Hallmark Channel, pull up my online bank account and watch sappy Christmas movies while sending out checks to nonprofits. It’s a beautiful thing, especially if there is hot chocolate involved. With marshmallows.

The Snowball Express turns 11

The nonprofit that caught my eye this year is Snowball Express. I’d never heard of the 11-year-old organization until a friend told unknownme about her neighbor whose Marine sergeant husband was killed while serving in Afghanistan. A few days before Christmas, his vehicle rolled over a land mine and no one in the jeep survived. He is survived by his wife and two daughters, both under the age of 10.

For the past six years, they have boarded the Snowball Express and headed to Dallas, Texas for an all-expenses paid trip where they spend a few days with other children and surviving spouses of fallen military heroes.

It’s for the children

Snowball Express honors America’s fallen military members who have made the ultimate sacrifice since September 11, 2001 by connecting the families who are going through similar circumstances. While they are enjoying special activities during the event, they are building friendships rooted on common ground.  To participate, children must be between the ages of five and 18. Many of these heartbroken kids have found best friends among those who also lost a mom or dad.

According to some, Snowball Express was named after the 1972 Disney comedy of the same name. The hero of movie overcomes insurmountable difficulties with the help of family and newfound friends. That’s where the similarity between Hollywood movie and real life ends. The Disney character’s struggles are over in 93 minutes. Children who lose an active duty parent face ongoing struggles that can last a lifetime. Snowball Express offers a little joy, friendship and healing, giving many of the kids a chance to feel normal for the first time. They realize they’re not the only ones who’ve experienced the same kind of loss.

American Airlines, the official airline of Snowball Express, provides most of the travel accommodations for these Gold Star families, arranging air transportation on charter and regularly scheduled flights. In 2016, more than 1,800 children and spouses representing all branches of the military, attended the event.

Volunteers do the work

Because more than 90 percent of total contributions go directly to support the Snowball Express programs, most of the work is carried out by volunteers.

Celebrities like Dick Van Dyke, Tony Orlando and Gary Sinese pitch in to raise awareness. Gary Sinese, who has supported Snowball Express since it began, closed the 2016 event with a concert by his Captain Dan Band.

Volunteers who work for the airline gather at departure and arrival gates to send off the children, and later to welcome them home. Because they’re employees, they have no trouble getting through security clearance at the airport, despite the red and green striped tights and jingle bells. American flight attendants and even the captain and first officer have been known to don Santa hats for the festive flight to Dallas/Fort Worth.

I saw pictures of Santa placing a little boy into the overhead bin of an aircraft. The boy was giggling and laughing all the way. Ho…ho…ho. The only thing missing was Rudolph and the rest of the reindeer, who were probably busy helping the pilot with preflight checks.

Snowball Express is a charity I plan to support this year. If only I could figure out a way to give each of the 1,800 family members a shelter dog.

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