It was months in the planning and took many hours of volunteer work to carry out, but the smiles on the children’s faces made the undertaking worthwhile.
On Saturday, December 22, and Monday, December 24, Santa was escorted through many areas of Logan County by volunteer firefighters as he, along with his helpers, distributed close to 3,500 gifts to children.
Richard Ojeda, president of Logan Empowerment Action and Development (LEAD), said he and Steven Hall, another member of LEAD, were discussing were discussing the wonderful operations performed by the Barnett family and Omar Crime Watch at Christmas in distributing gifts and treats.
“We thought wouldn’t it be great if we could do the same thing and cover all of Logan County,” said Ojeda.
Combining their forces in Operation Santa was the LEAD organization, the Marine Corp, countless volunteers, firefighters, businesses and churches.
“The Lutheran Church and Word of Life Church each donated $1,000 to this function,” said Ojeda. “We just started gathering toys, and we started early. Since we were a 501c3 program, Steven found out that we could work with KB Toys. For $240, which was the price for transport to our location, they donated $1,600 in brand new KB toys.”
Ojeda said other items besides toys were also distributed.
“Appalachian Outreach was a big partner in this as well,” said Ojeda. “We made boxes and passed out blankets to the homeless. We took them under the bridges and gave them to the people we found under the bridges. Some of the bridges you could tell that people were squatting but no one there, we just laid down the blankets and the gift-wrapped packages.”
Ojeda said the boxes contained items like new socks and gloves.
Ojeda said he spoke with Logan Fire Department Chief Scottie Beckett and Beckett hooked up the effort with the rest of the firefighters in the county.
“We ended up with 11 different firefighting organizations throughout Logan County, and we just started doing the planning,” Ojeda said.
In the beginning of December, all gifts and toys were brought to a central location, which was the Vets Center at Henlawson, to be wrapped.
“We just asked people with spare time to go the Vet Center to wrap gifts,” said Ojeda.
Ojeda said they were able to get deals on wrapping paper and tape from businesses.
“The Dollar General Store in town gave us really good deals,” said Ojeda. “Walmart also gave pretty good discounts. We pretty much when in and cleaned their shelves off. We had a lot of organizations that worked with us on this project.”
Ojeda said the biggest help in the distribution came from the firefighters.
“I really want to stress how wonderful it was to have the firefighters because the firefighters know their community better than anybody,” said Ojeda. “I went with the Lake VFD, George Underwood’s crew. We went up hollows and the firefighters would say ‘I know there are kids that live in that house.’ It wasn’t anything for us to walk up to the door. One little boy walked me and Santa Claus through his house so he could show us his Christmas tree.”
Ojeda said he had one volunteer and Marine Corp veteran who was a major part of the success of the operation.
“Larry Kammerer — he was the one that went and spoke to a lot of organizations. He went and purchased a lot of the toys and a lot of the money raised was from the Marine Corp League,” said Ojeda.
Ojeda said next year will be even better.
“We’ll start again early and try to work with more organizations,” said Ojeda. “We tried to do a positive thing and I think it worked out very well.’