On Wednesday morning, the old state warehouse that serves as the Operation Santa Claus headquarters was bustling with activity. Over the course of a few hours, SEA/SEIU Local 1984 members and National Guard troops loaded thousands of packages on National Guard trucks to be delivered all over the state.
This is the 58th year that SEA members have organized this program, growing from a few children in the Concord area to the program we see today – which helped nearly 3,000 children in need this year.
“So many people touch this program, from the caseworkers at DHHS to our members who volunteer so much time to all of the people who sponsor children,” said SEA President Rich Gulla. “Given how large the program is, it makes sense that so many are involved, but it’s still really heartwarming. I’m proud and thankful for all of this effort to help those in need.”
On Wednesday, the National Guard formed lines to pass packages from the sorted piles into the waiting trucks. Those trucks will be arriving throughout the day at DHHS district offices around the state; the next step will be for the DHHS caseworkers to distribute the gifts.
After all the trucks were loaded, OSC volunteers drew winning raffle tickets for a wide array of gift baskets. Winners will be notified in the coming days.
In the span of a few hours Wednesday morning, volunteers loaded gifts for more than 2,700 children in trucks to be delivered across the state.
Just like that, Christmas happened for thousands of children across the state.
Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that. Operation Santa Claus – a volunteer run group of SEA/SEIU Local 1984 members– is a massive community effort. Wednesday was OSC’s Truck Day, when a busload of National Guard troops joined OSC volunteers to load gifts into trucks. Guard troops then trucked the gifts to DHHS district offices, where they’ll be unloaded and sorted so caseworkers can get them to kids in time for the holiday. (You can see a gallery of photos from the event here)
Along with National Guard troops and our own volunteers, we were joined by special guests Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, Adjutant General David Mikolaities, and Miss NH Lauren Percy. Our good friends at WMUR – who sponsor children themselves – were there to cover Truck Day, as well. (You can watch their report here) We appreciate all who took time out to be with us.
It’s tough to describe how much of a community effort Operation Santa Claus is. It’s a process that involves a lot of love, hundreds of DHHS caseworkers, thousands of sponsors, and a whole lot of time. Our volunteers – many of whom are retirees – give so generously of their time. Thanks to all of this, OSC again delivered for children around the state.
For the last four years, OSC has held a drawing for some piece of high-tech gear – this year, it was a 50-inch television. We held the drawing at Truck Day on Wednesday, and the winner is:
Kathleen Weber, an SEA member at the Department of Environmental Services
Congratulations, Kathleen, and thank you to all who bought raffle tickets!
The stories behind Operation Santa Claus are largely what makes the program so compelling. Not just the stories of the children who need help but also the stories of the helpers. They’re an inspiration for us to do more and be better to each other.
That’s certainly the case with Arianna Jones, a senior at Coe-Brown Northwood Academy, who was able to spread a little Christmas cheer while raising money for Operation Santa Claus. Jones was looking for a charity project to undertake as part of her senior portfolio. Jones’ mom, Adina Bernier, is a Chapter 41 member and suggested Operation Santa Claus. Jones said she liked the idea of helping people in her community.
“I know that local charities need just as much support as international charities, so I chose to donate to Operation Santa Claus,” Jones said.
Jones said in talking with her mom, she came up with the idea to go caroling to raise money.
“I love singing and it’s one of my favorite hobbies, so I wanted to incorporate it into my project if possible,” Jones said.
After working out some details, she got case sheets for three children, then organized the caroling event with students in her school’s performing arts department. The group was able to raise $370 in cash, which she used for the gifts, as well as another $360 in checks for Operation Santa Claus.
“I love the feeling of knowing that more children will be able to experience the same Christmas memories of Santa that I cherish, as well as the knowledge that the children I sponsored will have a lot of the winter clothes that they might need this year,” Jones said.
Jones said the work involved in the project was well worth it, given the end result. Her mom agreed.
“It was nice to see her go around and spread Christmas cheer to our neighbors, and more importantly, to raise the money so she could make sure that the children have a wonderful Christmas,” Bernier said.
In the middle of the summer, when most of us are trying to keep cool, our DHHS caseworkers are thinking about Christmas. Not for themselves, mind you, but for their clients.
It’s with the caseworkers that the process begins for Operation Santa Claus every year. Caseworkers identify families in need, but they must also identify specific needs for each child and provide a brief history for the child. This, of course, comes in addition to already heavy caseloads.
Chapter 45 member Shannon Murphy, a Family Services Specialist in Laconia, started working for the state in January and jumped right into the OSC process. She said her colleagues were helpful with advice on balancing caseloads and what was needed for OSC.
“I have a great team that I worked with and they’ve helped me every step of the way,” Murphy said. “The teamwork that my district office has shown me has helped me balance my daily tasks and OSC.”
As Murphy noted, it’s a big group effort that extends beyond the caseworkers to administrative staff who help keep the process on schedule and supervisors who stay flexible to allow workers to participate (many supervisors take part in the process, too). In the Concord district office, Carol Caron helps coordinate the process.
“I just notify family services workers who have kids that are long-term cases with us,” said Caron, an executive assistant with the Department of Children, Youth and Families. “Some of the children have been with these caseworkers for a half dozen years, so the caseworkers know their needs and help guardians fill out the forms. Once the process is complete (and gifts are purchased), the caseworkers will end up coordinating a visit or a pickup.”
Murphy said that getting personalized recommendations from guardians proved to be difficult, with some not providing enough information. Others, she said, asked only for “needs,” like clothing but left the toy section blank.
“I thought it was great that they focused on what the children needed, but I felt badly that they wouldn’t get any toys,” she said. “I had to do some follow-up to ensure the children got a little more than clothes.”
The entire process is a lot of work for those involved, but these workers are deeply invested in the lives of their clients. Plus, it’s Christmas.
“Everybody’s willing to go out of their way because they want the children to have a nice Christmas,” Caron said.
“The struggle has been worth it for the simple thought that children all around the state will have gifts to open on Christmas Day and that they will know that they are cared about,” Murphy said.
The Division of Public Health Services at the Department of Health and Human Services held its annual craft fair fundraiser to benefit Operation Santa Claus on Nov. 4 at 29 Hazen Drive in Concord. Gloria Zela, one of the organizers of the event, said it was a great success with strong attendance.
“There were some awesome baskets entered for the basket raffle, and the crafters had some interesting displays,” Zela said. “With the money raised from the fundraiser as well as cash donations, we’re hoping to sponsor 12-15 children this year. Thanks again to everyone for all the support.”
It’s that time of year! The Operation Santa Claus (OSC) elves are busy at work matching sponsors with children for the 2016 Operation Santa Claus holiday program. But they are coming up short on sponsors and need your help.
More children than ever before have been identified by NH Dept. of Health & Human Services Case workers as in need of the program. We attribute this to the large number of children who have a history of one or both parents being addicted to illicit drugs.
Due to the increased need, we are in need of more sponsors. We ask that you open your heart and sponsor one or more children. You will receive a form with the child’s history, first name, gender, age, sizes and items the child needs and wants for Christmas. We ask that you spend a minimum of $70 per child. If that amount is beyond your budget, please consider co-sponsoring a child with your family, friends or co-workers. You can access a sponsor form here. Please email your completed form to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax it to 603-271-6525.
There are gift drop off sites throughout the state and you will be able to bring your gifts to a location near you. You will be given specific information about packaging and delivery options when you receive your child(ren)’s case sheet(s). Children from 0-17 yrs. of age are eligible for the program.
Established in 1960 Operation Santa Claus (OSC) is a non-profit organization founded by the State Employees’ Association of New Hampshire/SEIU Local 1984. Operation Santa Claus’ mission is to provide holiday gifts for NH children who are without resources and deserving of help. Without OSC, their holiday would be just another day – without gifts, without things they need, much less want.
When the program began, it benefited 14 children and State Troopers delivered the gifts from county to county. Today, the program benefits over 3,000 children each year and the delivery would not be possible without the generous participation of the NH National Guard.
Chapters Cook, Sell Used Books to Help Support Operation Santa Claus
Hazen Drive has been hopping lately with Operation Santa Claus fundraisers. Many of our worksites and chapters sponsor children as a group, and hold fundraisers throughout the year to help pay for it. On a recent Friday, members at the Departments of Safety and Environmental Services held separate fundraisers.
At the Department of Environmental Services, that meant their annual chili and chowder cook-off. Competitors submit entries in several categories, donating their time and materials. If you weren’t cooking, entry to the event cost you a minimum suggested donation of $5.
“For our Chili/Chowder Bowl, we made $330,” said Maria Michel, one of the DES employees who organized the event. “The winner of the chili category was Janice Houston of DHHS with her beef chili submission. The winner of the chowder went to Collis Adams of DES with his clam chowder submission.”
While the chili/chowder cook-off was going down, just across the parking lot members at the Department of Safety were holding their semi-annual media sale, which has always been a successful fundraiser for Chapter 40.
“I would like to thank you all for coming out to our first media sale of the year,” said Chapter 40 member Janice-Ann Sinclair. “The sale was another success: We ended up making a total of $188, which means we can sponsor three kids, so far.”
Sinclair had plenty of thank-yous for the volunteers who helped with setting up, the book sale itself, and cleaning up after. From Chapter 1, she recognized Linda Farrell and her mom, Irene, Jane Lyman, Charlene Clark and Carol Beaudoin; from Chapter 40, she recognized Elizabeth Champney, Kevin McMahon, James Kowalik, Patricia Smith, Brian Lumbert, Kathy Albert, Julie Rank and Sandra Champagne. She also wanted to thank Roger Ordway, Michael Cutting and Nick Lacourse for bringing the books back and forth to the warehouse, as well as Jennifer Jones for letting them keep the books in the warehouse. Books were donated to the sale from the Department of Safety as well as DHHS, Environmental Services and the Liquor Commission.
“Without the help that I get from people that donate books & donating their time I could not do it without them,” Sinclair said. “I appreciate it very much.”
If you missed out on this media sale, you’ll have another opportunity coming up soon.
“Our next media sale will be held on Nov. 10 in Room 112 from 9 a.m-1 p.m.,” Sinclair said. “This will be our last one until next year. So, don’t forget to come out & get stocked up on your winter reading.”
Chapter Forms Have Been Sent and Sponsor Forms Ready to Go
With the end of summer approaching, the volunteers of Operation Santa Claus have been working hard to process case sheets from DHHS social workers. Sadly, the demand for help is greater than ever before, but with your help we know we’ll ensure that children around the state will have a merry Christmas.
While many SEA/SEIU Local 1984 members sponsor children individually, we also have many chapters that pool resources and hold fundraisers to sponsor children. This week, we sent out forms to chapter presidents that should be arriving soon, so whether your chapter has regularly participated or it’s never taken part before, you’ll have what you need to get started.
For anyone who sponsors children individually, you can find the 2016 sponsor form here.
We appreciate your patience and especially your participation in this program, which would not be able to operate without the efforts of our volunteers — many of them state retirees — and sponsors like you.
DHHS Again Hosts Ice Cream Party to Benefit Pair of Charities
The folks at DHHS sure know how to raise money and look cool doing it. On Wednesday, they hosted their annual Groovin’ on a Sundae Afternoon, serving up ice cream to benefit two charities, including our own Operation Santa Claus.
This year’s fundraiser, which was held in the Brown Building cafe, had a luau theme, complete with Hawaiian shirts and flower leis. At lunchtime, the room was packed with people enjoying their sundaes, which servers would happily customize with a rainbow of toppings.
Sara Kelly, an SEA/SEIU Local 1984 member who helps organize the event, said they raised a total of $950, which is great, especially considering tickets were only $5 each.
“The fundraiser splits the proceeds between the New Hampshire Food Bank and Operation Santa Claus, so each organization will receive a donation of $475 from this event,” she said.
The event is organized by a fund-raising committee at DHHS that includes Kelly, Kathleen Desmarais, Elizabeth Maynard, Nicola Whitley, Jillian Schenck, Michelle Rosenthal, Rick Hill, Joseph Chevrefils, Lacey Grendell, and Joan Marcoux. Sundaes were served up by a volunteer crew that included several commissioners and assistant commissioners as well as representatives from the NH Food Bank. Ice cream was donated by Arnie’s, Ballard’s, Summer Freeze and Brown Cafe.
Kelly said the luau theme seemed to be a hit with the crowd.
“Folks were singing along and swaying to the music, happily posing for pictures with luau props and even sporting tiny umbrellas in their hair,” Kelly said.
Thank you to the DHHS workers who put this cool event together, and thank you to the volunteers and ice cream-eaters. Fundraisers such as this help ensure that Operation Santa Claus and the NH Food Bank can continue to serve our fellow Granite Staters who are in need. You can read more about Operation Santa Claus here. You can find more information on the NH Food Bank here.