By Scott Prater
1st Lt. James Edelen didn’t hesitate when he heard the word.
The Falcon School District 49 bus drivers needed help in their effort to pull off their holiday plans, and as he knew, Schriever had the potential to provide just such assistance.
Early in November, the bus drivers were looking for volunteers. They had already raised funds for the Santa’s Toy Express, a program designed to help under-privileged local children experience the joy of Christmas, but they needed 20 or so people to help the mostly school-age children do a little holiday shopping.
They contacted 3rd Space Operations Master Sgt. Shannon Stromberg, who sent out a message to the 3rd SOPS. The first order of business was to find a point of contact to spread the word.
“I volunteered right away,” Lieutenant Edelen said. “And I started asking people in 3rd SOPS within minutes. It was easy. We even signed up folks from other squadrons. The bus drivers only asked for 20 people, but we showed up with 24.”
On Dec. 5, the 24 Schriever Airmen walked into the Falcon School District bus facility at 7:30, ate breakfast with about 50 children, then boarded buses headed for Wal-mart.
The bus drivers raised enough money to provide each child with a $40 gift certificate. With money to spend, the children just needed some help figuring out what to buy.
Each Schriever volunteer was assigned to help a specific child pick out gifts and stay on budget.
Lieutenant Edelen will be a father soon; his wife is expecting the couple’s first child in the next few months, but he got an early taste of life with the preschooler he accompanied.
“My shopping partner was five year old DeVante — and he was shopping for three of his brothers,” he said. “Not only we’re we able to find gifts for all of them, but we also picked something out for his mom and dad too. We ended up going over by just 40 cents, which the bus drivers reimbursed us for.”
Following their shopping spree, the group arrived back at the bus center, where they all gathered and helped wrap their gifts. The kids made tree ornaments, caught a movie and watched an artist contort balloons into animal shapes.
“DeVante is a big Star Wars fan, so the balloon artist made him a light saber,” Lieutenant Edelen said. “He was ultra excited and grateful too.”
Following the festivities, each of the child shoppers visited with Santa, made Christmas cards and received a huge bag full of toys, courtesy of the bus drivers.
“I’ve done volunteer work in the past and this program really makes you appreciate what you have,” Lieutenant Edelen said. “If it wasn’t for Santa’s Toy Express, these kids probably wouldn’t have a Christmas.”
Lt. Col. Kevin Daugherty, 3rd SOPS’ Director of Operations, doesn’t have any children in the Falcon school district either, but he saw the Santa’s Toy Express as a way to give something back to the community.
“The child I was assigned to had a great time and was able to purchase Christmas gifts for all of his family members, see Santa and receive a load of presents for himself,” Colonel Daugherty said. “I think I had a much fun as he did.”
Lt. Col. Jean Eisenhunt was awed by how the bus drivers managed to raise enough funds to cover the entire event.
“This event was a great experience and partnership with the community of Falcon/Peyton, District 49, local businesses, high school ROTC and Schriever,” said Colonel Eisenhunt. “Helping kids select presents for their family members was a unique way to share the Christmas spirit.”