BATAVIA – For Joanna Ziolkowski, being able to help throw a holiday party at the Batavia VFW for soldiers and their families Sunday was a privilege.
As the leader of Family Readiness Group, a volunteer organization that supports troops and their families, she said the annual party is a fun way to interact with other families who are going through similar experiences.
"We're all privileged to do what we do," she said. "We do this because we love it and we like to support our soldiers."
Each year, the Batavia Overseas VFW Post 1197 plays host to a holiday party for troops. Sunday's lunch was held for the 106th Calvary, an Aurora-based National Guard troop otherwise known as Charlie Troop.
VFW Cmdr. Allan Richard said about 200 soldiers and their families enjoyed an afternoon of socializing, dining, a silent auction and a visit from Santa Claus, who showed up Sunday in a Batavia Fire Department truck.
Each stocking Santa handed out held toys, candy and a mini-American flag.
Joanna Ziolkowski's husband, Charlie Troop First Sgt. David Ziolkowski, said Sunday's party was a nice break from what's known as "drill weekend," when the troops spend time catching up on administrative tasks and briefings.
He said money raised from Sunday's silent auction and raffle went toward the Family Readiness Group.
"They really come in handy during deployments," he said of the group. "When we were deployed in 2008 and 2009, they helped keep families informed. We were spread out all over Afghanistan and lots of families didn't know where their loved one was."
Staff Sgt. Kareem Abraham spent four months recovering from a gunshot wound across his back while he served in Afghanistan during the 106th Calvary's deployment. Even through a harrowing overseas deployment, he said it was worth it.
"I wouldn't give it up," he said.
The families of soldiers are an important element to the 106th Calvary, too, said Barbara Feudo, wife of Sgt. Peter Feudo.
"Not only soldiers are part of this unit," she said. "Families are, too."
She said families are soldiers' backbones, and families get few opportunities to mingle with one another like they could on Sunday.
Richard, a former member of Charlie Troop, said the VFW is a very family-oriented organization that tries to give back to soldiers and veterans as much as possible.
He said the tradition of throwing holiday parties for troops is important "because we were there and we were in their shoes once."
"We're always out to support the troops," Richard said. "We want to show appreciation and gratitude for what they're doing."