This photo taken Dec. 6, 2014, shows Christmas toys and other supplies being loaded from a C130 military transport plane onto sleds being pulled by snowmobiles in Shishmaref, Alaska. The Alaska National Guard provided transport for the good Samaritan program Operation Santa, which took gifts and schools supplies to about 300 children in the Inupiat Eskimo community. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

This photo taken Dec. 6, 2014, shows Christmas toys and other supplies being loaded from a C130 military transport plane onto sleds being pulled by snowmobiles in Shishmaref, Alaska. The Alaska National Guard provided transport for the good Samaritan program Operation Santa, which took gifts and schools supplies to about 300 children in the Inupiat Eskimo community. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Volunteers bring Santa to remote Alaska village

  • By Mark Thiessen
  • Tuesday, December 9, 2014 11:19pm
  • News

SHISHMAREF — Volunteers who brought Christmas to a remote Inupiat Eskimo community on Alaska’s western coast came bearing necessities like coats and school supplies as well as rare treats like apples, oranges and even ice cream.

“’Cause everybody loves ice cream,” said 17-year-old Cheyenne Nayokpuk when asked why anyone living 25 miles south of the Arctic Circle would want the cold treat.

The Operation Santa Program and the Alaska National Guard brought toys and other gifts to Shishmaref during the Saturday visit. It’s the 58th year the program has brought a little holiday cheer to remote Alaska villages, where poverty is widespread.

“For some of these kids, if it weren’t for the toys we’re delivering, they might not get a toy or anything at Christmas,” said Maj. George Baker, divisional commander for the Salvation Army in Alaska.

“In many respects, some of these village areas are almost like Third World villages, and a lot people don’t understand that,” he said. “You think we’re living in the United States, but for a lot of these folks, this makes Christmas for them. Were it not for (Operation) Santa, they might not have anything.”

Besides Shishmaref, the other village that received a visit this year was Newtok. Both are among Alaska’s most eroded villages; both have plans to relocate, with Newtok further along in the process.

The National Guard provided a C-130 transport plane to take the volunteers, including a Salvation Army band, and gifts to Shishmaref, located about 600 miles northwest of Anchorage or about 100 miles east from Russia, across the Bering Strait in the Chukchi Sea.

“There is a lot of need in Shishmaref,” school Principal Ralph Watkins said. “Having access to just some of your basic things is an event.”

He said it takes effort to get to the village. For anyone wanting to get there from the Lower 48 states, it would require first a flight to Anchorage, followed by another airplane ride to Nome, followed by a small-plane ride to Shishmaref. It’s a big deal for someone to come in and bring gifts, he said.

“It’s all the kids have been talking about for the last week,” he said.

Some community members drove their snowmobiles to the airstrip to greet the arriving airplane and wave to Santa and Mrs. Claus as they got off. The honored couple rode in a pickup to the school for the big event, while other volunteers jumped in sleds and were pulled to town by snowmobiles.

Before Santa and Mrs. Claus made their appearance, the children of Shishmaref welcomed the visitors with Alaska Native dances.

The Clauses then arrived to a standing ovation from those in the packed gym, including the estimated 300 children who would receive gifts.

Santa then met with every child — some more willing than others — before the children went down a line to receive a gift, backpack, a book and then ice cream.

Nellie Okpowruk, 18, was among the students standing in a long line to see Santa and Mrs. Claus. As for her gift, she had something specific on her wish list.

“I want a trip, a round-trip ticket to Oregon to see my cousin and her daughter,” she said with a giggle.

This photo taken Dec. 6, 2014, shows a crying child unsure of what to make of Santa Claus in Shishmaref, Alaska. The Alaska National Guard provided transport for the good Samaritan program Operation Santa, which took gifts and schools supplies to about 300 children in the Inupiat Eskimo community. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

This photo taken Dec. 6, 2014, shows a crying child unsure of what to make of Santa Claus in Shishmaref, Alaska. The Alaska National Guard provided transport for the good Samaritan program Operation Santa, which took gifts and schools supplies to about 300 children in the Inupiat Eskimo community. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

More in News

Raymond Bradbury preserves his salmon while dipnetting in the mouth of the Kenai River on Saturday, July 10, 2021. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai River dipnetting closed; Kasilof to close Sunday

The Kasilof River dipnet fishery is reportedly slow, but fish are being caught

Silver salmon hang in the Seward Boat Harbor during the 2018 Seward Silver Salmon Derby. (Photo courtesy of Seward Chamber of Commerce)
Seward Silver Salmon derby runs Aug. 13-21

Last year’s derby featured 1,800 contestants competing across eight days

Rayna Reynolds tends to her cow at the 4-H Agriculture Expo in Soldotna, Alaska on Aug. 5, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Animals take the stage at 4-H expo

Contestants were judged on the quality of the animal or showmanship of the handler

Emily Matthews and Andy Kowalczyk pose outside the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies headquarters on Friday, July 29, 2022, in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Charlie Menke/Homer News)
AmeriCorps volunteers aid Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies

The 10-month commitment pushed them outside of comfort zones

People gather in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, for Salmonfest, an annual event that raises awareness about salmon-related causes. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
All about the salmon

Fish, love and music return to Ninilchik

Alaska State Veterinarian Dr. Bob Gerlach gives a presentation on Avian Influenza Virus at the 4-H Agriculture Expo in Soldotna, Alaska, on Aug. 5, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
State looks to outreach, education amid bird flu outbreak

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza is spreading in Alaska

Fencing surrounds the 4th Avenue Theatre in Anchorage, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. Demolition will begin in August 2022 on the once-opulent downtown Anchorage movie theater designed by the architect of Hollywood’s famed Pantages Theatre. The 4th Avenue Theatre with nearly 1,000 seats opened in 1947, and it withstood the second most powerful earthquake ever recorded. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Efforts fail to save historic Anchorage theater from demolition

Anchorage entrepreneur Austin “Cap” Lathrop opened the 4th Avenue Theatre, with nearly 1,000 seats, on May 31, 1947

Mimi Israelah, center, cheers for Donald Trump inside the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage, Alaska, during a rally Saturday July 9, 2022. Two Anchorage police officers violated department policy during a traffic stop last month when Israelah, in town for a rally by former President Donald Trump showed a “white privilege card” instead of a driver’s license and was not ticketed. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News via AP, File)
Alaska officers violated policy in ‘white privilege’ stop

The top of the novelty card reads: “White Privilege Card Trumps Everything.”

Ashlyn O’Hara / Peninsula Clarion file 
Alaska LNG Project Manager Brad Chastain presents information about the project during a luncheon at the Kenai Chamber Commerce and Visitor Center on July 6.
Local leaders voice support for LNG project

Local municipalities are making their support for the Alaska LNG Project known

Most Read