Fort Worth is a military town.
It was created in the 1840s as a military outpost; Lockheed Martin and Bell Helicopter are two of the city’s economic engines, and Fort Worth still has its own military base. The theme even plays out in football in the Armed Forces Bowl.
All that made Fort Worth seem like the natural place to host an annual gathering for families of military personnel killed since 9-11. So Councilman W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman pushed for the nonprofit Snowball Express to make the move from Dallas to Fort Worth for this year’s event, in December.
“I said, ‘It just looks like where Snowball Express ought to be,’ ” Zimmerman said. “We are on probation, if you will, to see how it works out.”
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But the organization has hit some snags in the move.
It is costing Snowball Express about $300,000 more to put on the $3.8 million event in Fort Worth than it did in Dallas, largely because of more expensive hotel rooms and bus expenses, said Robert Wood, a Snowball Express board member.
The organization is also about $150,000 short of its fundraising goal — a target it was supposed to hit by Oct. 1.
“We will get through it somehow. Somebody will step up,” Wood said. “Sept. 1 was our early date, but we wanted everything by Oct. 1, because then we can cruise and we aren’t as worried about the money and we can focus on other things. That didn’t happen.”
The four-day weekend of healing and fun brought nearly 1,800 spouses and children of fallen troops from across the country to Dallas last year. The group made one-day visits to Fort Worth in 2013 and 2012.
So “phenomenal” was the welcome in Cowtown that Wood said organizers decided to house the families in Fort Worth this year from Dec. 11 to 15 and do a one-day visit to Dallas.
Past Snowball Express events have included a trip to the Fort Worth Stockyards, the Fort Worth Zoo and concerts by Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band.
But Wood said support from vendors on the west side of the Metroplex large enough to handle the group has been hard to find. A caterer of one of the events canceled a little more than a month out.
“He was worried about staffing and his ability to handle the event and decided he couldn’t do it,” Wood said. He added that organizers expected to secure a replacement but acknowledged that it could be a challenge to find a big enough vendor with the event being so close to the holidays.
Zimmerman said that the snags are temporary and that fundraising and planning will flow better next year, after more of the public sees the impact the weekend has on the families.
“I don’t think anybody has stopped to think about how this is good for Fort Worth. Our whole focus is about how this is good for the families,” Zimmerman said.
“It gives people a chance to express their appreciation for the sacrifices our military men and women go through for them. That is the benefit for the city when you get down to it — we become host for a very special group of folks, with the whole purpose to make sure that every one of them has the best possible time they can ever have.”