By Rose L. Thayer
Fort Hood Herald
Santa Claus dressed in purple to give out toys to nearly 200 children of wounded warriors Sunday afternoon.
Purple Heart Chapter 1919 and Wheelers for the Wounded, an all-terrain vehicle recreational group, sponsored the second annual Purple Santa Christmas at Club Hood for Warrior Transition Brigade families. This year's event helped more than three times as many children as last year.
"I was blown away," April Griffith, family readiness support assistant for the brigade, said of the increase in support. "I'm amazed they were able to compile enough resources."
The Wheelers group was able to get enough toys donated so that each child received four or five gift-wrapped toys. Other treats for families at the event included cookie decorating, raffle prizes and live music.
Sgt. Mark Gilmore, of the brigade, brought his family out to the event as a way for them all to enjoy some time together. Michelle Gilmore said the brigade has been like a family to them since her husband joined in 2007.
"We know what each other has been going through," said Michelle Gilmore of spending time with other families in the brigade. "It's also good for the kids because they get to talk with each other. They're a little bit of a community on their own because of the understanding and acceptance they have."
As for the gifts their two children would receive from Purple Santa, the Gilmores said they could only open one right now; the rest were going under the tree until Christmas Day.
"I'm going to open the biggest one I got," said their 9-year-old son, Conner.
Michelle Gilmore said they made sure their children understood the gifts were coming from the generosity of others.
"It's really nice," said Conner.
The idea for the toy donation event came from Wheeler member Lynne Cruz, who owns a day care. The child of a wounded warrior began attending her facility and she said she saw how the family's income was set back because of the injuries.
She said she decided to host a toy drive for the family, which eventually grew into the Purple Santa event. The group held a party for families at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio last weekend.
"I enjoy doing it because it's very family-oriented, and I get to touch a lot of hearts," said Cruz. "It gives some relief to the families, too. It's not just for the kids to get a gift from Santa."
Contact Rose L. Thayer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7463.