Fort Riley has begun its 34th annual Operation Santa Claus program. Its goal is to collect toys from around the Junction City and Manhattan area from donors and give them to the children of financially struggling soldiers.
Head Elf, Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Ferguson, said he is confident they will reach that goal again. Ferguson said in past years, the program has given toys to about 1,000 to 1,500 children.
“We always get enough toys,” Ferguson said. “We never fail, we’re soldiers. We’ll make it happen.”
His favorite part of the project is simply helping the community of soldiers.
“Just being able to give back,” Ferguson said. “I have four kids of my own, so just seeing a kid smile when he was able to pick his toys out. That’s the one good thing I like about the program: The family gets to come there and pick the toy that they want. It’s not like we pack it up and ‘here you go.’ They come in, the kids get the wow factor. They get want they want so they’re happy. That’s a joy that we get.”
While the program has already started issuing toys, Operation Santa Claus will accept donations until Dec. 21. There are many places to donate toys, including Walmart and Motorcycle Supply Inc. in Manhattan, and also Walmart and City Cycle Sales Inc. in Junction City. Operation Santa Claus is asking for toys in the price range of $15 to $20.
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Ferguson said the hardest group to find presents for is the age range 12 to 18, and that they usually prefer interactive presents such as board games.
Operation Santa Claus held its ribbon cutting ceremony on Nov. 5, opening a warehouse that already contained some donated toys. A handful of kids were able to run in and choose presents.
“When the doors lifted up, the eyes lit up,” Ferguson said. “They were super excited. It’s a great feeling.”
The toys are now being given to the families on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Santa’s Workshop, located at Camp Funston on Fort Riley. Donated toys can be dropped off there as well.
“It was a big, open warehouse,” Ferguson said. “We took some scrap and plywood, and thanks to all the local community partners giving us paint and materials, we made a great, great workshop. Everything’s pretty much built by hand. It was good times. Lots of hard work, but good times.”
Operation Santa Claus also takes checks and monetary donations. Money boxes are located at each of the drop off locations, and checks can be made out to “Operation Santa.”
“When we have money, we’re excited, we’re happy elves,” Ferguson said. “We get to go Walmart, Target, wherever it may be, and pick out the latest and greatest toys. Fill up baskets and checkout. Shopping is great, can’t go wrong.”
To volunteer for the program, visit myarmyonesource.com or call 785-239-2771 or go to the welcome center at Fort Riley. The work is tracked and can count as volunteer hours.
“Everybody is welcome to do their part and help out,” Ferguson said.