Ashley Till, 10, and her brother Jamie, 7, tell Santa and Mrs. Claus what they want for Christmas at the base wide holiday party. Ashley is Little Miss Edwards and Little Miss Photogenic 2010. (Air Force by Diane Betzler)
Mr. & Mrs. Grinch, aka Phyllis and David Gonda of Palmdale, Calif., take a moment to relax during the base-wide holiday party and pose for a photo. The Gondas began raising money to support a holiday celebration and bring gifts for all the children whose parents are stationed at Edwards. Each year they raise more than $10,000 to support the effort and say it's their way of giving back to America's men and women in uniform who are serving the country. (Air Force photo by Diane Betzler)
1/5/2011 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- For the children of Edwards, Dec. 17 was truly the most wonderful time of the year. It was the night David and Phyllis Gonda of Palmdale, Calif., brought their holiday extravaganza to the Oasis Community Center and showered the children with gifts and holiday cheer.
Each year that the Gondas put on a holiday party for the children of military families stationed here, and each year the event seems to grow a couple sizes bigger.
This year was no exception when nearly 400 Edwards' children and their parents attended what has become the Grinch Family Christmas.
The Gondas, along with several of their family members and a few close friends, have been bringing special Christmas joy to the children as a way of saying thank you to their parents for serving in America's armed forces since 2007.
This year the holiday affair was also hosted by some of Edwards' top military officials who pitched in and made the special evening part of the base-wide holiday party.
"What a tremendous event," said Chief Master Sgt. Bill Thomaston, 95th. Air Base Wing command chief, who played a pivotal role in organizing this year's holiday celebration.
"What a fabulous turnout, the outpouring I've seen since I got here is absolutely amazing," he said about life at Edwards.
Sandra Davis, director of the Oasis Community Center, also pitched in to help make this year's affair a huge success.
"It took about 20 volunteers, all of whom are active Air Force personnel, and two days to decorate the center for the event," she said. "But to see the sheer joy on the youngsters faces as well as the delightful grins from their parents, who are our military heroes, makes it all worth it."
"This makes me smile," said Faith Pavlicek, a California City resident who attended the event with her 2-and-a-half-year-old grandson, Allen.
"It makes me want Christmas to come now," she said pointing to all the holiday decorations and costumes worn by the Gonda family and their holiday helpers.
From the smiles on the children's faces as they gathered around Santa and Mrs. Claus and the screeches of delight after being turned loose to choose a Christmas present from the room full of brand new toys, it was plain to see that Christmas had already begun for the children who are part of the Edwards family.
Also helping the Gonda family make the 2010 Christmas celebration the "hap-happiest season of all," was retired Army Lt. Col. Joan Foor, who has been part of the holiday event from the very first party held in December 2007. The group spends an entire year raising funds to purchase the truck-load of gifts that are given out throughout the evening.
Any leftover gifts are given to the Team Edwards Angel Tree project to kick start their gift give away program for next year, said Phyllis Gonda.
"This is the greatest holiday party I've been to in a long time," said Sgt. Robert Warfield of the HMM 764 Marine Helicopter Squadron who brought his wife Lynette and their five young sons to meet Santa, Mrs. Claus and the Grinch who once stole Christmas.
The Grinch brought his family who are now some of Santa's biggest fans once they learned many years ago after the Grinch "puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore, that Christmas doesn't just come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."
"Our service men and women do so much for us, giving back to the military is so important because the kids sometimes get forgotten in the shuffle," Mrs. Gonda said, referring to the hardships military families face when a member of the family is deployed.