Operation Santa Claus provides Christmas cheer for area families

12/16/2016, 8:46 p.m.
The holiday season is a time of celebration for many people. But for families struggling to make ends meet, a …
Kevasia Taylor, 5, center, takes a break from shopping to rattle off her detailed Christmas list to Santa Claus, while 10-year-old Quanasia Hubbard waits to share her list during the Prince Hall Masons’ Operation Santa Claus last Saturday. Location: Walmart on Sheila Lane in South Side. Photo by James Haskins

By Holly Rodriguez

The holiday season is a time of celebration for many people.

But for families struggling to make ends meet, a bountiful Christmas can be out of reach.

Twenty years ago, the 26th Masonic District of Prince Hall Masons recognized the need and started Operation Santa Claus.

The organization invites sponsored families to the Walmart on Sheila Lane in South Side to pick out what they need for their children and the Masons pay for the items at the checkout. The budget is approximately $100 to $200 per family, and items such as toys and clothes are purchased.

This year, 75 families with about 60 children were helped by Operation Santa Claus last Saturday.

“At Christmas, we just wanted to make a difference,” said Dwight Hagans, the worshipful master of Trinity Lodge #44 and chairperson of the event for the past two years.

After shopping, the families went to the Masons’ Lodge at 25th and Leigh streets in Church Hill for a meal. The families enjoyed fried chicken, potato salad, string beans, rolls and juice, with Walmart donating cupcakes and other treats for dessert. Several employees from the store volunteered to help serve the food. Additional gifts and photographs with Santa also were given.

“Between the shopping and visiting with Santa and the meal, the children were so excited,” Mr. Hagans said.

Operation Santa Claus is the latest community program in which the group participates. Members also visit patients and workers at McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center and host an annual back-to-school drive each summer.

People and families in need are recommended through state and local social services departments, members of the lodge and by word of mouth.

Mr. Hagans estimated the group raised several thousand dollars to make Operation Santa Claus a success.

“When God has blessed you with a home, food and a couple of dollars in your pocket, you feel really good about helping someone less fortunate,” Mr. Hagans said. “That’s what I’m about.”