Operation Santa Claus Continues Tradition of Providing Gifts to Rural Communities

Jan 11, 2021 | by Lessa Peter

Christmas was made bright for community members in the Interior Alaska rural communities of Stevens Village and Birch Creek and the rural community of Nanwalek located off Kachemak Bay thanks to Operation Santa Claus.  Operation Santa Claus is an annual program organized by The Salvation Army and the Alaska National Guard to bring Christmas cheer to rural Alaskan communities. The Salvation Army has partnered with the Alaska National Guard since 1969 to bring the annual Christmas program to fruition for rural communities in the most need, each year.

The communities Operation Santa visits are often communities that have experienced particular hardship in the past year. Normally, a community gathering takes place with an ice cream party and gifts are given to children from Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, but due to COVID-19, 2020 was a little different. This year, the gifts were offloaded in all three communities by the Alaska National Guard and community members came to collect the boxes after the Guard departed.

In November, a small group of volunteers chose and wrapped gifts for each child in all three communities over a two-day period. The children received backpacks containing a wrapped gift, books, stocking stuffers and a handmade hat knitted by volunteers in Florida and North Carolina. The backpacks were then put into boxes that also contained puzzles, board games, coffee and non-perishable food items for the families.

National Guard Black Hawk helicopters delivered the gifts to the communities of Stevens Village and Birch Creek on December 2. On December 11, a CH-47 Chinook Helicopter delivered gifts to the community of Nanwalek.

“This is the first year that one of our new Alaska National Guard Chinook helicopters participated in Op Santa,” said Lt. Colonel Candis Olmstead, the Alaska National Guard project officer for Op Santa. “We’re excited for them to carry on our long-standing tradition of delivering gifts to Alaskans in rural communities with military aircraft.”

“The Salvation Army is thankful for the Alaska National Guard’s decision to continue Operation Santa Claus in 2020,” said Major John Brackenbury, Divisional Commander for The Salvation Army in Alaska. “We look forward to helping bring a smile to the faces of community members and children in rural Alaska each year. Although we don’t get to experience seeing that joy in person this year, we are sure they were happy to receive their boxes of holiday cheer.”

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