Dressed in red and green, and decorated with poinsettias and mistletoe, Suzanne Crosby poked her head out of a shoppette on the north side of Fort Gordon. She greeted a couple of visitors, curious about the former general store, whose windows appeared to be frosted with snow.
“Hello, gentlemen,” said Crosby, a co-manager of the Fort Gordon Christmas House. “Are you ready for Christmas?”
It is only September, but Crosby and her fellow elf, co-manager Shawn Williams, are gearing up for the holidays.
The two are already transforming the 21st Street shop into a “Christmas wonderland,” filling it floor to ceiling with gifts for children of all ages in anticipation for next Tuesday. That’s the day the income-based program will start to accept applications from soldiers who might need some help providing holiday gifts for their families.
Registration will run through Nov. 15, and families approved for the program will be contacted within two weeks to schedule a time on either Dec. 3 or Dec. 4 to come by the Christmas House and be escorted by an elf to choose some toys to give their children on Christmas Day.
A commissary gift certificate will also be issued to supplement the holiday meal.
“We have just begun shopping and we cannot wait,” Williams said.
The Fort Gordon Christmas
House program is supported entirely by volunteers, and donations raised during the past 12 months by military units, private organizations and local merchants.
The program started in 1966, when a group of Army nurses began placing a teddy bear in the arms of military children whose fathers were serving in Vietnam.
Today, the program serves 300 families and as many as 800 children, said Crosby and Williams. The two have begun two new traditions for this year’s Christmas House, whose theme is “A Little Bit of Holly but a Whole Lot of Jolly.”
For the first time, the Christmas House will be decorated with wreaths and trees customized by each unit at Fort Gordon. Also this year, the two managers said they met with 50 military children on post to get a sense of what gifts today’s youth would like to receive.
“They gave us a ton of ideas,” Williams said.
This year’s list includes bicycles, baby dolls and super hero collectibles. Also in demand are perfumes and colognes, ear phones and video-game accessories, and watches and jewelry.
Williams said Santa Claus will attend an open house at 10 a.m. Nov. 22.
Williams said the program hopes to help lower-ranking service members and those facing family or financial crises.
“When Christmas House is offered to a family in need it changes their whole perspective,” she said. “They go from fearing the worst that can happen, which is tears, to being excited about the best that can happen, which is absolute and complete joy.”