The Exposition Hall of the Hendricks County Fairground in Danville, Ind., was once again decked out in Christmas cheer as children eagerly eyed the long tables stacked high with wrapped gifts at the Indiana Blue Star Program’s fifth annual Spirit of Christmas event.
The brainchild of Indiana Blue Star Chairman and American Legion Post 145 member Ralph “Zoc” Zoccolillo, the Spirit of Christmas provided Christmas presents to 16 military and veterans families from Indiana, totaling more than 90 people – 58 of which were children. Zoccolillo raised over $37,000 from individuals and businesses to fund the event, which was staffed by volunteers from local Legion posts.
“It’s an honor for me to be able to come here today and share this time with you military families who have served our country so well, and we appreciate you coming here,” said Post 145 Commander Mike Welsh in greeting the families. “Just seeing the smiles on their face, and the joy of Christmas, it makes it all worth it for the effort that ‘Zoc’ and his crew has so dearly put together.”
Prior to the event, the families sent in their Christmas wish list, along with their clothing and shoe size. This year’s list included bikes, toys, televisions, bedding, pots and pans, silverware, clothing and more. Then members of the Legion Family throughout Indiana, along with volunteers, shop for the items. The wish list also includes tickets to this weekend's Colts vs. Dallas Cowboys game for a family who lost their 6-year-old son – a huge Cowboys fan – to a drowning accident this year while the father was deployed. And one mother, who has cancer, had a wish list to make memories with her children by doing different activities in downtown Indianapolis.
Other attendees this year included Santa and Mrs. Claus who arrived by Huey helicopter flown by the Indiana Search and Rescue, “Prince Charming” and “Cinderella” in their formal attire, “Snowflake” the Elf, and even the Chick-fil-A cow who took pictures with the children. Among other activities, the children also got their faces painted in vivid colors and staged mock battles with swords and staves made by a balloon artist. The event even sponsored a huge lunch provided by Epicureans Catering.
“It’s a very joyful, cheerful day,” said Zoccolillo. “We have been blessed that we raise enough money each year that every single family, every single child, gets everything that they wished for.”
Among those receiving this charitable largesse was Allen McCarter from Marshall, Ill., an activated Air National Guard intelligence analyst who serves in Terre Haute. “This is overwhelming, I just broke down…God bless these people who come here and provided this for my family, I am just so grateful.” The McCarters and their children were making a whole day of it, with plans to attend Christmas at the Zoo following Spirit of Christmas, although Allen noted with a smile that they might have to take a nap in their vehicle in between.
“My family will always remember the generosity” said another attendee, Laura Barber. “The kids and I love our bikes. My son is ready for college next year thanks to the laptop. There were so many presents! Thank you for putting on a meaningful event for families trying hard to keep joy in their hearts this holiday season.”
Whitney Link agreed. “Thank you so much for everything you did for our family. I don’t know how to put into words how much of a blessing you all were for our family this year.”