ANCHORAGE, Alaska — On a tiny speck of a frozen runway on the north financial institution of the Yukon River, almost 100 miles northwest of Fairbanks, Christmas was delivered in a most uncommon means.
An Alaska Nationwide Guard helicopter descended by way of a rotor-whipped cloud of snow in Stevens Village, a tiny group of about 30 individuals. Townspeople rushed to the airstrip on their snowmobiles after seeing the helicopter land after which watched as guardsmen sporting flight helmets unloaded packing containers containing wrapped presents for almost everybody locally.
Then they flew off.
This yr’s version of Operation Santa Claus didn’t have the pomp and grandeur of earlier incarnations, however the mission of delivering presents right here and two different largely Alaska Native villages was accomplished with COVID-19 security precautions in place.
“For 65 years now we have not missed a beat,” stated Chief Grasp Sgt. Winfield Hinkley Jr., command senior enlisted chief of the Alaska Nationwide Guard.
“And I’ll inform you, COVID is tough,” he stated, “however it is not going to cease us from finishing up this custom. It’s an honor to do it.”
Operation Santa Claus was born out of arduous occasions in 1956, when residents within the village of St. Mary’s confronted a troublesome selection: meals or presents for the kids after flooding, then drought, devastated subsistence actions. They selected meals.
The Alaska Air Nationwide Guard then stepped in, delivering donated presents and provides to the group.
Since then, this system has grown, and in 1969, The Salvation Military turned a accomplice in offering toys and different objects to kids throughout rural Alaska.
Annually, Operation Santa Claus makes an attempt to ship presents to 2 or three villages which are chosen for various causes, resembling having a specific hardship within the final yr or excessive poverty ranges.
Greater than 90 villages have hosted Operation Santa Claus since St. Mary’s. Stevens Village, and the opposite two chosen this yr, Birch Creek and Nanwalek, had been first-time members.
This yr, volunteers packed toys, stocking stuffers, backpacks, knit hats, toothbrushes and toothpaste and books for 127 kids.
In a traditional yr, the arrival of Operation Santa Claus is a group occasion, with locals driving Santa and Mrs. Claus and helpers at the back of pickups or on sleds pulled by snowmobiles to the native faculty for a celebration. All village residents are invited to have their images taken with Santa and eat an ice cream sundae, and kids get a present.
However in the course of the pandemic, COVID-19 protocols dictated the presents be delivered to airstrips, the place locals picked up and distributed them.
Stevens Village First Chief David Kriska stated having the Nationwide Guard name and see if they’d have an interest was reassuring.
“It was nice as a result of simply being so locked down and with journey, , so out of contact with the skin world,” he stated. “Having somebody that even reached out and needed to do one thing like that was like, ‘Whoa, hey, superior!’”
Nevertheless, he needs it might have been the complete expertise, together with having his kids sit on Santa’s lap.
“It might have been nice for my youngsters to work together with them as a result of they’re needing that social interplay,” he stated. “I’d have liked to have that image with my daughters.”