Kyla Becker, 6, and Jackson Davidson, 5, both from Indianapolis, give Santa their full attention during the party Saturday. Avon American Legion Post 145 hosted the Indiana Blue Star Spirit of Christmas event at the Hendricks County Fairground in Danville, Ind., on Saturday, December 17. (Photo by Mike Fender)

Frightful weather can't dampen Christmas spirit

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Kevin Richmann couldn’t help but get a bit choked up at Saturday’s Indiana Blue Star Spirit of Christmas event.

A veteran who was injured when his tank hit an IED in Afghanistan, Richmann received a donated Buick Rendezvous at Saturday’s event.

“I’m usually never at a loss for words, but I can’t even begin today. You guys sure know how to make a guy feel blessed,” Richmann said. “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever been a part of in my life. God bless each and every one of you.”

In its third year, the Spirit of Christmas event brings needy military families from across the state to the Hendricks County Fairgrounds in Danville, Ind., home county of the Indiana Blue Star Salute.

“We’re basically trying to make their holiday season a little bit better,” said Lindsey Banter, an active-duty military spouse who has served on the Blue Star committee for four years.

The Indiana Blue Star Salute Committee was started more than a decade ago at Post 145 and has grown into its own nonprofit organization to support military families in need.

Once the recipient families have been identified, they give the committee a “wish list.” Banter said the families receive most of the gifts they ask for, as well as clothing, household items and other essentials, plus a gas card for making the trip.

Despite bad weather Saturday that left many drivers in the area stranded, only one of this year’s 14 recipient families couldn’t make it to the event because of the weather.

The weather also played havoc with plans for Santa Claus to arrive via Huey — Charlie Walker, president of Indiana Air Search and Rescue, joked on stage that Rudolph didn’t want to fly in this weather — but Santa and Mrs. Claus did arrive by car, so families could get their photos taken with the couple.

Tables inside the venue were piled high with presents for each family, with local Sea Cadets on hand to bring the tables to the families and clean up the wrapping paper when it was time to tear into the gifts.

The event also included a meal provided by Epicureans Catering of Indianapolis and door prizes including tickets to a Pacers game and opening day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Gifts also included four beds for one family and a two-seater go-cart for another.

“It brings extreme joy to every one of us to put a smile on each and every child of yours, and also to put a smile on your face, the moms and dads that are here,” said Indiana Blue Star Chairman and Legionnaire Ralph "Zoc" Zoccolillo.

Zoccolillo choked up himself as he told Richmann about the Buick, donated by Stewart Motors of Brownsburg, which included new tires as well as car seats for Richmann’s two children. Zoccolillo noted that half the cost of the vehicle was paid for by an anonymous donor who heard the story from Zoccolillo and offered to cover the cost even though they had never met before.

“This is what Christmas is about, and this is the time of the year where we’re able to give back to all of you that are here,” Zoccolillo said.

Donations to the Spirit of Christmas can be made through the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/indianabluestarsalute.