ANCHORAGE, Alaska — On a tiny speck of a frozen runway on the north financial institution of the Yukon River, practically 100 miles northwest of Fairbanks, Christmas was delivered in a most uncommon manner.

An Alaska National Guard helicopter descended by means of a rotor-whipped cloud of snow in Stevens Village, a tiny neighborhood of about 30 folks. Townspeople rushed to the airstrip on their snowmobiles after seeing the helicopter land after which watched as guardsmen carrying flight helmets unloaded packing containers containing wrapped presents for nearly everybody locally.

Then they flew off.

This yr’s version of Operation Santa Claus didn’t have already 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 we have not missed a beat,” mentioned Chief Master Sgt. Winfield Hinkley Jr., command senior enlisted chief of the Alaska National Guard.

“And I will tell you, COVID is rough,” he mentioned, “but it will not stop us from carrying out this tradition. It is an honor to do it.”

Operation Santa Claus was born out of arduous instances in 1956, when residents within the village of St. Mary’s confronted a tricky alternative: meals or presents for the youngsters after flooding, then drought, devastated subsistence actions. They selected meals.

The Alaska Air National Guard then stepped in, delivering donated presents and provides to the neighborhood.

Since then, this system has grown, and in 1969, The Salvation Army grew to become a accomplice in offering toys and different objects to youngsters throughout rural Alaska.

Each yr, Operation Santa Claus makes an attempt to ship presents to 2 or three villages which are chosen for various causes, akin to having a selected hardship within the final yr or excessive poverty ranges.

Residents of the village of Nanwalek, Alaska, greet guardsmen who delivered presents in a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment.AP

More than 90 villages have already 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 youngsters.

In a traditional yr, the arrival of Operation Santa Claus is a neighborhood occasion, with locals driving Santa and Mrs. Claus and helpers at the back of pickups or on sleds pulled by snowmobiles to the native college for a celebration. All village residents are invited to have already their pictures taken with Santa and eat an ice cream sundae, and youngsters get a present.

But through 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 mentioned having the National Guard name and see if they might have an interest was reassuring.

“It was great because just being so locked down and with travel, you know, so out of touch with the outside world,” he mentioned. “Having someone that even reached out and wanted to do something like that was like, ‘Whoa, hey, awesome!’”

However, he needs it may have already been the complete expertise, together with having his youngsters sit on Santa’s lap.

“It would have been great for my kids to interact with them because they’re needing that social interaction,” he mentioned. “I would have loved to have that picture with my daughters.”

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