Operation Santa Claus Gets Early Start

Operation Santa Claus volunteers pass bags of gifts along to be loaded in National Guard trucks for delivery last year.

Operation Santa Claus volunteers pass bags of gifts along to be loaded in National Guard trucks for delivery last year.

Volunteers hoping to make process easier for all involved

Christmas may only come once a year, but for the volunteers of the SEA’s Operation Santa Claus, that one day requires a whole year’s worth of work. Not long after Christmas has passed, the elves of Operation Santa Claus (as the volunteers refer to themselves) begin getting ready for the next year. Those elves got an earlier start than normal this year, and are preparing to swing into high gear in the next month.

For anyone who’s unfamiliar with Operation Santa Claus, the organization is a nonprofit that originated in 1960 and is run by SEA members. Every year, case workers at the Department of Health and Human Services identify children up to the age of 17 who may not otherwise receive Christmas gifts. Those children, in turn, are matched up with sponsors who purchase gifts. The NH National Guard then delivers the gifts. Many sponsors take on more than one child, and many work sites combine resources to collectively sponsor numerous children. In all, Operation Santa Claus brightens the holidays of around 3,000 children each year.

As you can imagine, an operation of that size requires a lot of work and organization. The Operation Santa Claus Committee has been meeting monthly all year, and volunteers are preparing to kick into high gear. Committee Chairwoman Linda Farrell said they’re getting an earlier start than in previous years, aiming to make the process easier for all involved.

“We’re getting the forms out early for caseworkers to use,” she said. “In allowing everybody to start earlier, we’re trying to make it so nobody has to make a last-minute push. That makes it easier for Health and Human Services workers and for us, as we try to get children to sponsors a little bit faster.”

Farrell said the volunteers’ workload will depend on when the forms, representing each individual child, start coming in.

“If we start getting a lot in August, then we’ll obviously ramp up then,” she said. “Usually it’s toward the end of August and into September that we start ramping up, getting the children’s information verified and getting everything ready for the sponsors.”

Probably the most remarkable thing about Operation Santa Claus is how many people get involved in the process. The committee itself holds several fundraisers throughout the year, but it also gets help from others. For example, the SEA 5K Road Race and Fitness Walk benefits Operation Santa Claus. SEA members hold their own fundraisers throughout the year, too, organizing everything from auctions to book sales to breakfasts.

“Any involvement is appreciated and much needed,” Farrell said, noting that the committee is always looking for new ideas for fundraisers. “We can always use the help, and there are always more children that can be helped.”

Beyond fundraising, the volunteers are what really make Operation Santa Claus go. Those volunteers put in countless hours, the bulk coming in the span of several months. Many of the volunteers are retirees in the SEA’s Chapter 1, who got started helping Operation Santa Claus while they were still working. After retiring, they began helping out more. For anyone currently working who’s interested in helping out, Farrell asked, why wait?

“Even though they’re working, there’s no reason they can’t join our meetings and help raise money in their agencies,” she said. “The more that they get involved then, the more willing they might be to help us when they retire or just have more free time.”

Farrell said the draw of Operation Santa Claus might just be that it’s so easy to get involved and make a difference.

“It’s just something that a lot of people get involved in, and they can feel a part of it, even if it’s just a small part,” she said.

If you’d like to be a part of Operation Santa Claus, you can sign up to volunteer, sponsor a child or donate money by emailing Farrell at seaosc@seiu1984.org.

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