This is one of my favorite stories to share with you every year during the holidays. It’s the perfect example of what can be achieved through a bit of imagination and a lot of compassion. Each year, the Gary Sinise Foundation helps hundreds of family members of fallen heroes come together to experience the magic of Walt Disney World with the annual “Snowball Express” event. This year, more than 700 families of late military heroes, including over 1,800 children and surviving spouses, had the opportunity to bond with each other and fellow families who understand their loss. Out of respect to the families, I wanted to share the events of this special occasion as accurately as possible. Let’s see more of what occurred when these incredible families came together earlier this week to honor their loved ones.
A key moment of this five-day retreat is the sunrise “Walk of Gratitude” in Magic Kingdom Park and it’s one our cast members look forward to supporting every year. So much so that more than 1,100 Disney VoluntEARS made their way to Magic Kingdom before 5 a.m. to honor these special military families.
As the sun slowly rose on a chilly December morning, hundreds of family members walked from Town Square towards Cinderella Castle to participate in an emotional ceremony celebrating their fallen loved one as hundreds more cast members cheered them on with loving appreciation and support.
Prior to arriving in Magic Kingdom, each family wrote personal messages to their fallen hero on scrolls that were placed in a magic caldron on the Cinderella Castle stage. During the procession, children of these fallen service members rang bells to send their messages up to the parent(s) they lost.
As they arrived at the Castle, they were greeted by Mickey Mouse and Gary Sinise Foundation leadership who started a special moment where all the scrolls in the magic caldron were sent skyward to heaven with the help of a little Disney magic.
“While our hearts are heavy at the circumstances that brought these families together, I am grateful we can wrap our arms around them, that we can honor them while remembering their loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom,” said actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise. “As we approach the holiday season, I am so glad that we are able to bring these deserving families together to create new and wonderful memories at the most magical place on earth, Walt Disney World.”Disney Parks Blog
Though the subject matter is unthinkable, the beauty of community and respect in this event always pulls at my heartstrings and serves as a wonderful, seasonal reminder of the important things in life. I hope this look into such an incredible event made possible by the Gary Sinise Foundation, along with Walt Disney World, opens your heart the way it did mine.
Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.
Join Zoë as she lets you in on all the tips, tricks, anecdotes, and embarrassments that arise from her family adventures.