U.S. Army officials got a head start on spreading some Christmas cheer Monday at Fort Riley.
Military personnel gathered with regional leaders at Camp Funston for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the 34th annual Operation Santa Claus program. The program helps needy kids and their families by providing gifts for local children of active-duty service members during the holiday season. Operation Santa Claus assists junior-enlisted service member families with financial difficulties during the holidays.
Col. Stephen Shrader — the garrison commander of the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley — said the past success of the program represents strong ties between Fort Riley and its neighboring communities.
“I think it’s a testament to community partnership in the Flint Hills region,” Shrader said. “It shows the relationship that has been built over the years; it’s one big family. At the end of the day, it’s helping soldiers and kids at Fort Riley that may not have had the privilege (otherwise). I can’t think of a better way to spend a day in November.”
Visitors joined military officials in singing “Here Comes Santa Claus,” and the bearded man in red made a boisterous appearance as well.
“They said they needed a Big Red 1!” Santa exclaimed. “And I’m a Big Red 1!”
Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Ferguson is heading the operation for the first time this year. A group of seven volunteers has been assisting him with gathering presents since Oct. 1.
“We’ve gotten a lot of calls,” Ferguson said. “Twice a week, I send volunteers out.”
Operation Santa Claus is accepting donations of new, unwrapped toys in the $15-20 price range for children who are 18 or younger. Donation boxes are located at businesses in Junction City, Ogden and Manhattan.