Today, as young children the world over anticipate the arrival of Santa, children in Kodiak, Alaska look to the sky and the sea as they wait to catch a glimpse of Coast Guard Cutter Spar and an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Kodiak.
The helicopter and cutter are carrying toys and gifts to children as part of the Santa to the Villages program. The program, now in its 37th year, takes volunteers from the Spouse’s Association of Kodiak and teams them up with Spar and an air crew from Air Station Kodiak to deliver holiday cheer to seven remote villages on Kodiak Island: Ahkiok, Larsen Bay, Karluk, Ouzinkie, Port Lions and Old Harbor.
Tracy Wise is a volunteer with the program and this year’s co-chair where she heads the year-round fundraising efforts that make the event possible. The program takes the entire year to plan, and the collection of toys and gifts starts literally the day after Christmas the previous year.
“I start wrapping gifts in October so I have Christmas for a long time and its very joyful,” said Wise. “These kids are so appreciative and so excited to see us. They have lots of questions about the North Pole and we have to come up with lots of answers. It is just really heartfelt.”
This year, the children of Kodiak’s remote villages received hand-knit scarves mittens, hats and fruit – part of the holiday tradition that started with the original flight in 1973. They also received stockings with crayons, coloring books and, of course, toys.
“Its always a treat to see the kids eyes light up,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jackson who has flown in Santa to the Villages during his time at Air Station Kodiak. “Everyone rushes to the aircraft after we’ve shut it down and there are so many hugs and kisses.”
As Coast Guard men and women take off for search and rescue cases or get underway for drug interdiction missions, they do so to protect the nation and the communities in which they and their families live. Santa to the Villages, and programs like it, provide another way for service members to show their support to communities across the nation.
“It’s wonderful for the kids,” said Arnold Kewan, board president of the Native Village of Port Lions Tribal Council. “[The Coast Guard has] come out here since I was in school and I’m 45 years old. It gives the kids a chance to believe in Santa, which Santa is out there, and it makes them think about what they want to do in their lives when they see the helicopters fly over the villages.”