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Alaska National Guard helps brighten the holidays for children in rural Alaska

Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 1:12 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Hundreds of boxes filled with Christmas presents for children in rural Alaska are a major step closer to their final destination.

The Air National Guard delivered them to Bethel and Nome on Dec. 2. A Guard spokesperson said they will then be flown to two villages, and distributed to the children the week of Dec. 13 as part of the annual “Operation Santa Claus.”

“We’ve been through some difficult times within the past couple of years,” said Senior Airman Jovanni Contrerras, who helped transport the presents. “Just these efforts here I know will bring a good amount of happiness to those children in those communities.”

The two lucky villages remain a secret for now.

“We really haven’t put out any announcements,” said Alaska National Guard Liaison Officer Azara Mohammadi. “We’re kind of leaving that up to the leadership in the community.”

Air National Guard volunteers dropped off most of the 700 boxes to Bethel, the first stop on the flight. The Guard will fly them into one of the villages at a later date.

“I have grandchildren of my own, they love presents, right?” said Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Sallafhe, who is stationed in Bethel. “Bringing presents out to the village in these tough times, it’s pretty awesome.”

The rest of the gifts are dropped off in Nome, where they will wait to be delivered to the next community.

The Alaska National Guard has conducted “Operation Santa Claus” since 1956. For the previous 52 years, the Salvation Army has been involved, but this year, there’s a noticeable change.

The media will not be invited for the final leg of the journey to see the presents delivered to the villages.

“That’s just out of consideration for the rural communities,” said Mohammadi. “We’re just trying to reduce COVID transmission rates.”

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