By Christina Ledesma
La Habra Journal
The annual Operation Santa program sparked the holiday spirit in more than 350 families in need at the La Habra Community Center Saturday.
Toys and food were distributed during the event’s comfortable atmosphere where local families had fun and enjoyed themselves in spite of their circumstances. Children’s faces lit up with smiles and laughter as they enjoyed food, games, face painting, arts and crafts and a visit from Santa Claus. The family-friendly event was made possible through donations from various local businesses and help from many volunteers.
Melissa Rosales, 18, and her sister were just one of the many families attending the event. Rosales explained that her grandmother is unable to walk so she came in her place to pick up toys for her younger sister. Rosales has been coming to Operation Santa since she was 15 years old.
“I like how they’re spending the time and bringing families together, and giving toys for Christmas because not everyone may have the money for toys,” Rosales said.
Councilmember Jim Gomez was also present at the event to support the community.
“This is my fifteenth year, and I always get so emotional to see the smiles on their faces and how blessed these individuals are when they receive their gifts,” said Gomez. “It’s a blessing to see our community give back to those in need.”
The Friends of Family Health Center is one of the many partners of Operation Santa. During the event, they had an outreach and informational booth set up to inform the community about Covered California.
David De Leon, the recreation manager for La Habra, said that Operation Santa is about 25 years old. De Leon has been involved with the event for the past 15 years.
“When I came here to the city, I was asked to run this event, and what I did was restructure the infrastructure by bringing in some of the local business partners,” De Leon said. “So today is the fruits of the work we did a number of years ago.”
FreedomHouse Church also partnered up with La Habra. They have been involved with Operation Santa for the past four years. Their numerous volunteers set up craft and game booths at the event and also handed out prizes to children.
Social Services Manager Josie Anderson is responsible for working directly with the local school districts for this event. The schools create a list of students and families so they can identify the families who need help during the holiday season.
“They give a list of all of the families that maybe need some help this year and they give that to her and she creates a database. And we all work towards getting the toys and the food,” De Leon explained.
This year, De Leon worked with the La Habra Chamber of Commerce, La Habra Business Connection, La Habra AYSO and the Northgate Market. They each donated about $500 to the program, which was used to purchase 600 pounds of beans and 600 pounds of rice for the families in need.
De Leon added that he was pleased with the turnout and the support from the community for Operation Santa. “The one thing that we’ve been very proud of is that we’ve been able to help out a lot of families that needed help,”