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4th Annual Operation Santa Military Family Carnival a Huge Success

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michael Fariss
  • 171st Air Refueling Wing

3 Rivers Wealth Management & the Bridges Kids Club held their 4th annual Operation Santa Military Family Carnival at the Robinson Towne Center on Dec. 16, 2017.


As a person entered the giant room, the festive atmosphere was quite evident. Over 50 stations were in place for the event. Balloon artists, a caricaturist, a photo booth, a bounce house, face painters, as well as a variety of games, snacks and drinks were provided to military members and their families.

From swinging a bat and hitting a homerun, shooting a nerf gun at targets, to aiming for a hole-in-one using a candy cane golf club on the miniature golf course, kids were able to showcase their athletic skills.

There were games for kids of all ages, such as dropping a disc down a vertical board with pegs (similar to Plinko), throwing a fishing line over a wall to “catch” an unseen prize hooked by a worker on the other side, and grabbing play money in a Minion shaped cash cube.

If playing games made the children hungry, food was available as well. Hot dogs, nachos, soft pretzels and much else were provided free of charge as well as soft drinks and slushies to wash down the food.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Origami Yoda, I Survived as well as various coloring books were some of the plethora of children’s books available to each child, who was able to choose any two books, also without charge.

Members of the Bridges Kids Club & many other generous civilian families provided Christmas presents to military members children ages 12 and under. Each child had an “elf” who was paired with their Santa Wish list. Each elf earned the money, shopped for a gift and was able to watch their gifts being opened by the military child, getting to experience the joy they were able to give to someone else. Of course, each child was able to sit on Santa’s lap to tell the “big guy” what he/she wanted for Christmas. After the visit from Santa’s elf, each child’s Christmas list was drastically reduced.

“Every year is so wonderful,” exclaimed Deb Krall, Airman and Family Program Manager at the 171st Air Refueling Wing near Pittsburgh. Krall has volunteered for the event for the last three years.

3 Rivers Wealth Management Group partners with local 501c3 Heroes Supporting Heroes to insure all local military families in need are able to provide Christmas morning for their families, in addition to supporting the Operation Santa Family Carnival event.    Sign ups for the military carnival are done on Heroes Supporting Heroes, Heroes Support Network.  The Network is a website that centralizes support for service members, veterans and their families in Western Pennsylvania.

As an added bonus, during the event he organizers were able to FaceTime several bases around the world, connecting family members with loved ones deployed so they could also participate in the experience with their families. 

“This is our way to thank our military families,” said Kristi L. Hilbert, Vice President of 3 Rivers Wealth Management and organizer of Operation Santa. “Our event is not about need, it is about appreciation and thanks. Thanks to the wives and husbands, the children, the moms and dads. All of whom have sacrificed so much of themselves when they have a loved one in military service to our country.”

The event was held at an empty storefront in the Robinson Town Centre, near Pittsburgh. This year’s event drew over 850 military family members, including 344 military children under the age of 13 and over 200 volunteers, breaking the 1,000 mark in attendance. Considering the event began 4 short years ago with only 50 military family members in attendance and has more than doubled every year, that is an impressive number.  

 “You can’t believe it could get bigger and better, but every year it does,” stated Krall. “Everyone who attends is simply amazed at how awesome this event is.”

Next year, somehow, someway, many believe 3 Rivers Wealth Management Group & the Bridges Kids Club will find a way to outdo themselves yet again.