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Thursday, January 16, 2014 - 9:22pm
El Paso, TX (KDBC) — A first of its kind program in the United States will grant free membership into the El Paso Zoo for some Fort Bliss families.
Paul Foster and Alejandra De La Vega Foster pledged a $2 million donation to the zoo Thursday that will be dispersed over the next six years.
"The first part we've already started in and that is this family-friendly tree house that will be ready this spring," said El Paso Zoo Director Steve Marshall.
"The second part of the gift is over a two year period. 8,000 family memberships will be available at no cost to our returning heroes in the military that are returning to Fort Bliss from deployment," Marshall added.
The third part will fund operating costs of the Wildlife Theater program for 2016-2018
Foster and his wife said it is a way to help returning soldiers integrate back into their family life, and life in the community.
Wives of soldiers from Fort Bliss said they enjoy outings at the El Paso Zoo, but it can be pricey.
"It adds up, especially with kids. They want to go in the gift shop, they want to get the stuffed animal, they want to get the shirt, they want get the hat, they want to get the cup, they want to get food and it all adds up," said Crystal Johnson, who is married to a Fort Bliss soldier.
Foster said that is part of the idea behind the contribution.
"Everybody knows soldiers are not the highest paid people around and we want their families to enjoy the great assets and the great things to do in El Paso just like everybody else," he said.
The Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Program, or MWR, at Fort Bliss will distribute the first 4,000 free memberships in 2014 and the remaining 4,000 in 2015.
For more information about eligibility contact the Fort Bliss MWR office.
The $2 million donation distribution is as follows:
• $600,000 for Zoo memberships to be distributed to military families. 4,000 memberships will be distributed in 2014 and 4,000 in 2015.
• $500,000 for Foster Tree House Playground given in 2013 for playgrou