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By Staff Sgt. Victoria Nelson
New Hampshire National Guard members and volunteers from the State Employees Association transported truckloads of presents to the Department of Health and Human Services district offices in Concord during Operation Santa Claus on Dec. 13.
Each year the DHHS partners with the SEA and New Hampshire National Guard to deliver special gifts to nearly 3,000 families and children in need across the Granite State.
Phillip Burt, the chairman of Operation Santa Claus with the SEA, said many of the gifts are headed to foster children in every corner of New Hampshire.
“It’s a unique event because the DHHS staff provides case sheets with basic background information and gift suggestions for the sponsors,” he said. “That means that each child gets exactly what they want for the holidays.”
Sponsors include state, municipal, and county workers, local businesses and schools, and community groups. They donate $80 or more in gifts chosen specifically for their child.
Pam Matott, a volunteer at Operation Santa Claus for 41 years, said the event has grown with the needs of the community.
“Involvement goes beyond gift giving,” she said. “We are able to significantly help more kids as the event gets bigger and bigger every year.”
Bikes, Bluetooth headphones and New England sports apparel were a few of the most requested gifts this season.
“There are usually 100 to 120 bikes stacked all along the wall,” Matott said, as she pointed to the side of the warehouse now piled with colorful gifts. “Many of the older kids use the bikes they receive as modes of transportation throughout the year. You can see and know you’re making an impact on their everyday lives.”
Matott said she has seen local sponsor companies and agencies become increasingly more involved over the years and hopes to see more sponsors from outside the Concord area as the event continues to grow.
“Every little bit counts,” she added. “Now smaller organizations and families partner together to support one child. That’s one more wish that can come true.”
For National Guard members, Operation Santa provided an opportunity to give back in their local communities during the holiday season.
“It was really rewarding to be a part of something that gives directly to families in the state of New Hampshire,” said Senior Master Sgt. Lonnie Major, the 157th Fuels Flight Superintendent. “There were a lot of gifts going to kids and families who really need them.”