More than 1,700 children of fallen military service members got to enjoy an early Christmas vacation at Disney World as part of a program led by actor Gary Sinise.
On Saturday, 1,750 children from across the country, together with their guardians, were flown to Orlando via the ‘Snowball Express’ to experience a five-day holiday at the resort. Every year in December, the philanthropist partners with American Airlines to provide free vacations to these families so they don’t have to spend a penny.
“The holidays can be especially challenging for grieving families. Each December, we host a five-day experience for 1,750+ children of the fallen and their surviving parent or guardian. As a therapeutic retreat with a blend of fun and inspiring programs, these families can lean on their peers for support. And this year we’re bringing Snowball Express to Walt Disney World Resort,” foundation officials said regarding this specific trip.
Gary Sinise came to send the ‘Gold Star Children’ off their journey before meeting them in Florida later in the week. The actor took to Twitter to share an update regarding their departure for the annual program.
“Today begins our GSF Snowball Express #14. Over 1000 Gold Star Children travel with surviving parent or guardian, over 1,750 in all, via our travel partner @AmericanAir to Disney World as part of our @GarySiniseFound Snowball Express program.”
“This charter left Los Angeles this morning with 91 kids, 176 in all, and I got to take these photos with them before they left. I’ll join up in a few days. Have fun kids! We love you!”
Photographs from the weekend showed hundreds of kids and guardians enjoying their adventure in Walt Disney World as Sinise posed for pictures with the families.
The actor, who famously played commanding officer Lieutenant Dan Taylor in the film ‘Forrest Gump’, has been known for his initiatives involving veterans and military families.
After seeing this, Snowball Express approached him in 2007 and showed him videos from their event. Sinise was impressed by their work and signed up instantly to support them. He performed for the children together with his Lt. Dan Band.
In 2017, Snowball Express was officially welcomed as part of The Gary Sinise Foundation which was founded in 2011.
“They’re dealing with the grief and the loss of a loved one, a mom or a 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,” Sinise shared in an interview.
“You cannot underestimate the power of bringing all these kids together in a happy environment because we’re trying to bring joy to them right before the holidays, right before the Christmas holidays, which is a difficult time for a child who’s lost a parent — so bringing all these kids together at the happiest place on earth in Disney World was very, very special,” he continued.
The foundation also initiates programs that assist Gold Star families all year long. They take them to baseball games, camping, and provides them with educational opportunities to help “build bonds with the only people who can truly understand their loss: each other.”
Help military families all over the country through the Gary Sinise Foundation by clicking HERE.