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Families of fallen soldiers take flight

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patriot snowball express 14The Patriot Guard Riders’ (PGR) participation with the 10th Annual Snowball Express begins on Saturday, Dec. 12, when American Airlines, event presenting sponsor, will send out 10 chartered jets to airports across the country to pick up Gold Star families.

“Snowball Express remembers those fallen heroes who will never return, and honors the supreme sacrifice their families have made,” said Howard Griffiths, PGR member and a regional ambassador for the Snowball Express. “Snowball Express serves the children who will never be reunited with their mom or dad.”

The families will fly to Dallas-Fort Worth and join hundreds of others for a five-day Gold Star family gathering.

Since 2006, the mission of Snowball Express has been to honor their parent’s sacrifice and provide hope and happy memories for the children of the fallen military heroes who have died while on active duty since 9/11.

“The Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) was formed in 2005 in Kansas to serve as an honor guard to attend the funerals of members of the U.S. military, firefighters and police at the invitation of a decedent’s family,” said Griffiths.

The PGR organization, now numbering more than 330,000 members—with or without a motorcycle– was founded as a non-violent, volunteer buffer between mourners and the picketing of military funerals by then-pastor Fred Waldron Phelps (1929 to 2014) and the members of his Westboro Baptist Church (WBC).

“Over the past decade, true American Heroes– the men and women of the United States Military and their families– have made and continue to make extraordinary sacrifices to protect our freedom,” said Griffiths. “That’s why we started [our involvement with] Snowball Express.”

The last four years, the event has been held in the DFW Metroplex. The Snowball Express volunteer team creates a weekend of events to connect the children and surviving spouses of the fallen with others going through the same experience.

“The children who attend our [part of the] annual event walk away knowing they are not alone, and that we honor the sacrifice their parent made while serving our country,” said Griffiths. “Children often return year-after-year to reunite with the friends they have made through the Snowball Express.”

The children come from all over the world for a five-day experience filled with fun activities, like visits to the zoo and AT&T stadium, Fort Worth stockyards, sporting events, dances, amusement parks, talent contests, concerts and more.

Children of the fallen often are reserved, withdrawn or unwilling to talk about their loss. Participating in Snowball Express changes that by giving the children an opportunity to share their feelings about losing something so precious; their parent.

One of the highlights of the event is that each child is presented with a personalized, leather motorcycle vest and also gets their picture taken on a full-sized Harley Davidson wearing their vest. Each vest is equal to a $10 donation.

Returning Gold Star participants usually bring their original vest to update it with a special yearly patch. Older Gold Star children are presented with a shadow box to display their personal vest.

The PGR is looking for both individual and corporate sponsors to help the PGR bring cheer into the lives of the “Gold Star” children. All donations go directly to the 2015 Snowball Express program. Donations are requested no later than November 30 2015.

This July, The Snowball Express nonprofit received the coveted 4-Star rating for sound fiscal management and commitment to accountability and transparency from Charity Navigator.

Sponsors are recognized in four categories: Platinum $5,000+; Gold $2,500 to $4,999; Silver $1,000 to $2,499; and, Bronze $1 to $999.

For more information about the event or to make a donation, visit: www.snowballexpress.org or  www.ntxpgr.org. Those who prefer to write a check, should make it payable to: Texas Patriot Guard Riders, Inc. and annotated “Snowball Express 2015” and mail it to Griffiths at: 2409 Clearwood Ln., Flower Mound, TX 75028. A receipt for all donors’ tax deductible contribution will be provided.

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