Operation Santa in AlaskaFor over 50 years, The Salvation Army has partnered with the Alaska National Guard to bring joy to remote villages scattered throughout the state.
A unique ministry opportunity conducted by The Salvation Army each Christmas is the “Operation Santa” program in Alaska. For over 50 years, The Salvation Army has partnered with the Alaska National Guard to bring joy to remote villages scattered throughout the state.
The program originally started in 1956. Residents had lost their normal ability to earn a living due to severe spring flooding followed by a prolonged summer drought. Fishing and hunting were extremely limited. St. Mary’s mission used up their money to purchase food that needed to be shipped to the village.
With no funds left to buy Christmas gifts for their children, residents reached out for assistance. The Anchorage community heard their plea and responded. Donations poured in from the citizens of Anchorage, and the Alaska Air National Guard transported food and Christmas gifts to the remote village.
From that initial response to current day, the Operation Santa program has grown to serve thousands of children throughout the decades. Over 90 communities have been visited by Santa and his team of elves over the years.
Over the decades the Army has been involved with this program, over 38,000 toys have been donated, 7,000 hours of volunteers’ service have been logged and thousands of backpacks and school supplies have been donated. Major corporate sponsors such as Walmart and Costco regularly contribute to the program.
Rich Owens, owner of Tastee Freeze restaurant in Anchorage, has made the trip for over two decades, bringing with him treats to make ice cream sundaes for all the people gathered. He stated that it brings him immense joy to have been a part of this special event for all these years. “I wouldn’t miss doing this for the world.”
The Alaska National Guard tries to visit at least two villages along with The Salvation Army each holiday season. “We love this, we truly love coming here,” said Adjutant Major General Torrence Saxe about this tradition, even as the Department of Defense has curtailed this type of program everywhere except for Alaska.
Major John Brackenbury, divisional commander of the Alaska division, accompanied volunteers, staff and the Alaska National Guard this past Christmas to the tiny village of Napiakik. “It’s a labor of love,” he says. Jennie Ragland, the Service Extension and Emergency Disaster Services director for the Army in Alaska, works year-round with many volunteers to bring this operation into fruition. “This couldn’t be done without our core of volunteers and the cooperation of our donors and the Alaska National Guard,” Ragland notes.