In a hangar usually occupied by Army helicopters, thousands of families gathered Saturday to fill carts with toys and food.

The Celebration of Love began Friday evening, when three cars — refurbished by veterans training as mechanics at Caliber Collision — were presented to military families. A fourth car, in a surprise addition, was presented to a Vietnam veteran, according to Tom Ramsey, founder and president of the nonprofit organization Celebration of Love.

“We’re loving on our soldiers,” said Ramsey. He started the organization in 2003, when soldiers were starting to return from deployments after 9/11. “This is our eleventh year at Fort Hood.”

The Celebration of Love gave 349 bicycles and huge bags filled with toys to 2,200 families.

Those families also received a cart-load of food. Fort Hood Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Antonio Leija helped place the large turkeys in the carts as families passed.

“This is not a charity event,” Leija said. “This is where the community gives back to the soldiers for the sacrifices they make to defend us.”

Santa Claus greeted the children as they passed in line, and parents could snap photos with him. One of the volunteers crawled inside a large snowman display, mingling with the families just for fun.

The families were grateful for the generosity of so many sponsors and private individuals who made the Celebration of Love possible.

“It’s open to all soldiers,” Leija said. “Every year it gets bigger.”

In 2016, 1,500 families received food and toys at the event. With 700 more this year, Ramsey said, “It’s a blessing to see all the families.”

Remembering those who aren’t able to attend the event is also important, Leija added. “We want people to keep our deployed soldiers in their thoughts and prayers during the holidays.” Over 6,500 soldiers from Fort Hood are currently deployed, with over 100,000 deployed in all the armed services.

jferraro@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7568

254-501-7568 | jferraro@kdhnews.com

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