The Christmas holiday is a favorite for many. It is a time when families get together and celebrate the gift this life brings. But for some, it isn’t always such a joyous time. For those who have lost loved ones, it can bring back painful memories that haunt both the heart and the mind.
And it is for this exact reason that actor Gary Sinise, who played Lt. Dan in “Forrest Gump,” and his foundation has decided to make a difference in the lives of family members of those who have died in service to our nation.
Since 2011, though the Gary Sinise Foundation, Sinise has strived to serve those who once served us and their families. According to the foundation’s website, it desires to “serve our nation by honoring our defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need.”
Sinise says, “Freedom and security are precious gifts that we, as Americans, should never take for granted. We must do all that we can to extend our hand in times of need to those who willingly sacrifice each day to provide that freedom and security.”
And that includes those who sacrificed their time and memories with their loved ones for that freedom.
Sinise says, “While we can never do enough to show gratitude to our nation’s defenders, we can always do a little more.”
And for Sinise, “a little more” means building smart homes for disabled vets, performing free concerts, and even sending nearly 2000 children of our fallen heroes to Disney each Christmas season.
Yes, during the holiday season, the Gary Sinise Foundation teams up with American Airlines to make sure that 1750+ children and one surviving parent or guardian get to experience the magic that is Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.
According to WOFL, Sinise has partnered with the “Snowball Express,” as the event is called, since 2007. But six years after his own foundation’s creation, the holiday tradition became a part of GSF.
The all-expense-paid trip takes families from all over the country to the famous Orlando resort for a 5-day trip that “honors the children and surviving spouses of fallen military heroes who gave their life while in service to the nation.”
The foundation says that the experience acts as a “therapeutic retreat with a blend of fun and inspiring programs” with the goal of building new memories and coming into contact with others who have experienced similar losses and heartbreak.
Sinise says, “They’re dealing with the grief and loss of a loved one, a mom or dad who have died in military service, and all these kids are going through the same thing, so the power of all of them in the same place at the same time, many of them – hundreds of them – was very healing for a lot of them.”
In addition to the joys of Walt Disney World, GSF also gives the families opportunities to learn about scholarships, counseling services, medical benefits, and other services that can help support these families in need.
Sinise also makes sure to give each group a performance of the Lt. Dan Band, as well as other fun entertainment and activities.
According to American Airlines, this year, children and their parents, known as Gold Star Families, left from a total of 87 cities on 13 different charter flights to get to Orlando.
Senior Vice President of Operations at American Airlines David Seymour said in a media release that the “event highlights the caring nature of the American team.” He continued saying, “I’m honored to work with so many generous colleagues, not only those who have volunteered their time to fly and serve families in the air but those who have spent countless hours coordinating gate-side celebrations in scores of airports around our system.”
“Gary Sinise Foundation Snowball Express is a remarkable program that continues to impact Gold Star Families, and it is our deep privilege to partner with the foundation to honor them. As a company, and as a nation, we can never forget those that made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.”