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Gary Sinise flew over 1,000 children of fallen soldiers to Disney World for the holidays

Every year since 2007, the 'Forrest Gump' star gifts an early Christmas to family members of soldiers who lost their lives in service.

Gary Sinise flew over 1,000 children of fallen soldiers to Disney World for the holidays

The holiday season can be a difficult time for the loved ones of the brave men and women who laid down their lives for their beloved motherland. Fortunately, actor Gary Sinise has taken it upon himself to play Santa Claus for the children of fallen military service members. Every year since 2007, the Forrest Gump star gifts an early Christmas to family members of soldiers who lost their lives in service by flying them to Walt Disney World in the hopes of helping them heal and forget their grief. This year, over 1,000 children and their surviving parent or guardian got a chance to take part in the actor's Snowball Express program for a five-day break at the Orlando resort.



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, Sinise wrote on Twitter, sharing heartwarming images of the families boarding the flight. According to the Gary Sinise Foundation website, the Snowball Express aims to help grieving families "believe anything is possible. By providing guilt-free fun and beneficial resources in a stress-free environment, we’re creating a community to learn, grow, and make lasting memories with new friends."



"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," the website states. The foundation has been posting regular updates of the 2019 edition of the Snowball Express online and the pictures are proof of just how much the initiative has touched the lives of these children.



According to a report by Daily Mail, Snowball Express was aware of Sinise's longtime support for veterans and military families, so they first approached the actor in 2007 with a video of the event. The charity which was started by "a few people that wanted to focus on healing and to help the children of our fallen heroes," soon gained the support of the star with him even putting on a performance for the children with his Lt. Dan Band at the 2007 event. After he founded the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011, the Snowball Express became an official program of the foundation in 2017.



Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in 2018, Sinise opened up about why the initiative is so close to his heart. "They’re dealing with the grief and the loss of a loved one, a mom or a dad who has 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. 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, 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 was very, very special," he said.



The Snowball Express is more than just a fun vacation for the children of fallen soldiers. The program also aims to provide them the means through the emotional experience with a range of activities. "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, happiness, and joy," Sinise revealed.



The actor also confessed that the experience is both "heartwarming" and "heartbreaking" for him. "It’s heartwarming because it makes you feel good to see the kids laughing and having a fun time, but it’s also heartbreaking because you know why they’re there. They’re there because of loss and grief, and because they are a military family who's paid the ultimate price," he said.


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