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Local Gold Star Family gets to "board" the Snowball Express

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Posted at 5:50 AM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 13:14:35-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — Grieving the loss of a loved one can be overwhelming, especially for Gold Star families during the holidays and on top of worrying about the pandemic. One foundation is stepping in so that these families don't feel alone.

The Gary Sinise Foundation, a nonprofit, puts on what's called the Snowball Express Initiative. It's a program that provides the kids of fallen military heroes activities that involve healing and support all year round. At the end of every year, this initiative treats a group of Gold Star Families to a trip to Disney World, but because of COVID, this planned celebration had to be put on differently and safely.

Sixty-four Colorado families were shipped special Christmas Kits so that they could instead participate in this year's virtual celebration. Colorado Springs mom Leesandra Thibodeau and her 8-year-old son Liam were one of those families.

"Snowball Express, for me it gives me a mommy break. Liam gets a glimpse of what it would be like if daddy were still here," Thibodeau said.

Thibodeau's husband Chris was killed in a helicopter crash while serving in the army in Afghanistan. She was pregnant, carrying Liam when she learned of Chris's death. Thibodeau says she is so thankful for programs like his because it connects her and her son with other families who are experiencing a tremendous loss.

"They make kids like me and adults like my mom feel like they are warm and that we are not alone," Liam said. "They just remember our loved ones."

This year's festivities featured virtual games, trivia for the kids, surprise celebrity guests, and a special virtual concert this celebration.

This initiative is just one of many programs under the Gary Sinise Foundation. The main goal of this nonprofit is to provide healing and support to our nation's heroes and their families before, during, and after battle.

"We don't know what it's like for these families to wake up and deal with grief everyday," said General Robin Rand.

The Gary Sinise Foundation was founded 10 years ago in 2011 by award-winning actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise, who played Lt. Dan Taylor in the landmark film Forrest Gump. Gary then went on to form a program that provides service and gratitude for all those who protect our freedom. 88% of every dollar contributed to the Gary Sinise Foundation directly supports our nation's service members, veterans, first responders, and their loved ones. For more information and to find out how you can help, click here.