National Guard flies Santa to remote Arctic village
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Volunteers who brought Christmas to a remote Inupiat Eskimo community on Alaska's western coast came bearing necessities. Those included coats and school supplies as well as rare treats like apples and oranges. And even ice cream.
"'Cause everybody loves ice cream," said 17-year-old Cheyenne Nayokpuk. She was 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. It's the 58th year the program has brought holiday cheer to remote Alaska villages. Poverty there 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. He is divisional commander for the Salvation Army in Alaska.
"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. Newtok is further along in the process.
The National Guard provided a C-130 transport plane to take the volunteers. Aboard the aircraft was a Salvation Army band, and gifts to Shishmaref. It's located about 600 miles northwest of Anchorage or about 100 miles east from Russia.
"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. Visitors still would need one more plane ride. 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 airplane. They waved to Santa and Mrs. Claus as they got off. The honored couple rode in a pickup to the school for the big event. Other volunteers jumped in sleds and were pulled to town by snowmobiles.
Santa met with every child before the children went down a line. They received a gift, backpack, a book and then ice cream.