By Chris McGuinness
Fort Hood Herald
KILLEEN — Customers entering Outback Steakhouse in Killeen were welcomed by Santa Claus clad in a Texas Rangers hat and red shorts Wednesday, as they came to celebrate "Christmas in July."
The event was a buffet-style lunch to support Fort Hood's Santa's Workshop, a nonprofit organization that helps military families obtain gifts for their children at Christmas.
"We've been doing this for 14 years, and we are always so happy to see so many people come in and participate," said Carolyn Crissman, president of Santa's Workshop. "We've been able to help many military children have a wonderful Christmas thanks to the people who came today to help."
Santa's Workshop raises money to purchase brand new toys, games and books for children of military families in need.
"Part of the culture of Fort Hood is taking care of family, and that's something you see out in the community, too," said Col. Knowles Atchison, provisional commander for the 13th Sustainment Command, who partners with Santa's Workshop. "It's all about working to put a smile on the faces of children at Christmas."
Last year, Santa's Workshop provided more than 3,600 military children with gifts for Christmas.
This year, the organization sold more than 400 tickets to the lunch and hosted two seatings for the meal.
Sanji Willingham, a volunteer and chair of the Christmas in July event said 100 percent of the money raised would be used for the purchase of new toys, games and books for this year's Santa's Workshop.
"I love working with children, and this was a great chance to do that," said Willingham. "This is my first year with Santa's Workshop, and it feels great to know you are making a difference for them and their parents."
Outback Steakhouse provided the food at no cost, and its servers offered to donate any tips they got as well.
"I feel like every year, it's become more meaningful as we've seen more military parents get deployed," said Bill White, the owner of the restaurant. "I was happy to be able to help take the stress off of some of our troops who may be worried about being able to give their children a good Christmas."
The organization's next fundraiser, called a "Silent Night Out," will be held Sept. 7 and features wine, appetizers and live music.
Contact Chris McGuinness at email@example.com or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.