Actor Gary Sinise took these family members to Orlando aboard the 'Snowball Express' to experience a 5-day stay at Disney World.
Children of fallen military service members got an opportunity to celebrate Christmas earlier this year at Walt Disney World, thanks to actor Gary Sinise. According to a report by Fox News, approximately 1,700 family members from across the world were flown to Orlando on Saturday. They were aboard the 'Snowball Express' to experience a 5-day stay at Disney World. Every year in December, Gary Sinise Foundation partners with American Airlines to provide free vacations for families so that they don't have to spend a penny.
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. pic.twitter.com/lvDfMhXXcR— Gary Sinise (@GarySinise) 7 December 2019
"The holidays can be especially challenging for grieving families," said the foundation. "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." The "Forrest Gump" actor has been known for his longstanding support for veterans' and military families' causes. After witnessing this, Snowball Express approached Sinise in the spring of 2007 and showed him videos of their event. Impressed by their work, the humanitarian wasted no time and signed up instantly.
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! pic.twitter.com/jPRuZ0iuIp— Gary Sinise (@GarySinise) 7 December 2019
The amazing fun-filled vacation treat began in 2006 by, "a few people that wanted to focus on healing and to help the children of our fallen heroes," revealed Sinise during an interview. The founder then had teamed up with American Airlines to send several hundred kids to Disneyland that year. The following year Sinise performed for the kids with his Lt. Dan Band. Then in 2011, he founded the Gary Sinise Foundation, into which Snowball Express eventually folded.
"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," shared Sinise. "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.
Honor guard waiting to greet families of fallen soldiers who will be arriving at Indy International Airport to join the snowball express for an all expense paid trip to Disney World in Orlando. The Snowball Express is an annual trip by the @GarySiniseFound #snowballexpress pic.twitter.com/XI3fAGfYTm— Sarah Jones (@SarahJonesWTHR) 7 December 2019
This trip to Disney contains a free pass for every ride, but it actually begins with an opening dinner and ceremony on Main St. approaching Cinderella's Castle. Among other things, there's a flag garden filled with over 600 flags to pays respect to each family for their fallen members. "There's a lot of healing that goes on. We have counseling, we have all kinds of communal activities that focus on the healing aspect of a gold star family member who's grieving, but we also want to provide hope and happiness and joy and all of that," he added.