Mountain View Voice

News - December 16, 2011

Military children find holiday treats at Moffett

by Anna Li

For children from over 300 military families stationed in the Bay Area, Christmas came early this year.

Santa arrived at Moffett Field on bright green and red Christmas float to greet hundreds of children who waited patiently in line to see him. His jolly humor accompanied him as he sat in his chair while listening to children's holiday wishes.

Kids Wish Network, a national charity that serves children, donated over 9,000 toys after hearing of the Bay Area military community's need for toys. On Dec. 11, Operation Toy Drop came to Moffett Field with toys, clothes, books and a little holiday cheer.

Inside NASA's Building 152, stacks of boxes, some taller than the children, lined every wall. Each tower was labeled according to gender and age to make it easier for children to choose their gifts. In classic military fashion, Operation Toy Drop had been planned months in advance and unfolded very smoothly.

Parents helped their children dig through piles of jeans, skirts, books, Barbie dolls and more to find their favorite gift.

"Military children don't choose to have a parent deploy or move every three years," said Stacy Castellanos, the 351st Civil Affairs Command's family readiness support assistant. "They receive no recognition for their resiliency."

Barbara Askin, the director of Kids Wish Network, said that she came up with the idea to donate toys so that military kids would not feel left out this Christmas.

"We want to show the military families that we're grateful for what they're doing," said Askin.

Kevin Castellanos, 13, and Nathan Villapando, 11, are two kids who live at Moffett Field with their military families. Like other kids, they go to Crittenden Middle School and play video games. They met in 2010 and have been best friends since.

But unlike civilian children, Kevin and Nathan will be staying on base this year to celebrate Christmas with their family and many others at Moffett.

Through the years, Kevin and Nathan have seen their friends come and go. This experience of moving from place to place every one to three years has made them remarkably mature for their preteen years.

"The hardest part about coming from a military family is you can't keep friends forever," said Nathan. "But if you have bad history in one place, you get a new start."

Jabria Jefferson, 14, also lives on Moffett Field. She said that coming from a military family has taught her to take on more responsibility. "You mature quickly when you live through a world war," she said.

Despite the challenges, Kevin and Nathan plan to follow their family's footsteps when they grow up. "I'm going to join the Army like my dad," said Kevin.

Nathan said his plan is to "design and build military infantry technology."

Over 100 volunteers gathered to help distribute toys to the children. Operation Care and Comfort played a large role in organizing the event. Julie DeMaria, the director of Operation Care and Comfort, said that the goal of Operation Toy Drop is to bring people together.

"Some are getting ready to leave for deployment. For others, it's the first time they're together. It's overwhelming to see the families," said DeMaria.

"These people get forgotten," says Karen Pelle, the CEO of Mega Trux, a national shipping company, and a board member of Kids Wish Network. "We organized this event so that kids could go away with a surprise. It's a great family affair."

Pelle's company provides free shipping for the donated gifts. Her trucks picked up toys, clothing and books from the vendors and delivered them on 28 pallets to Moffett Field. "I'm the trucker!" she chuckles.

Operation Toy Drop began in Fort Bragg, N.C. in 1998. Soldiers donate a toy for children in the community in exchange for the opportunity to perform a parachute jump under a foreign nation's jumpmaster.

Operation Toy Drop came to the Bay Area for the first time this year so that families from both the East and West coast could participate.

"The biggest reward is to see a smile on the child's face. It is the easiest way to show them we care and that they're not alone," said Askin.

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