Operation Blue Santa, community efforts collect toys and necessities for Christmas

Operation Blue Santa, community efforts collect toys and necessities for ChristmasTowanda Borough Police Officer John Hennessy and his family distributed the Blue Santa bags to 11 families in need, including 28 children last night. From left, back row, are Shannon, Rian, John and Aidan; in the front row is Brody. (Photo contributed by Samantha Latos, The Daily and Sunday Review)

The Fourth Annual Operation Blue Santa was able to distribute toys, games, books, and basic necessities like shoes and clothes to 11 families of the Towanda Area School District, including 28 children.

Towanda Borough Police Officer John Hennessy and his family practiced COVID-19 safety measures and carried the Blue Santa bags into the backs of cars as they pulled up to the fire department beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday night.

John and his wife, Shannon, accepted applications for Operation Blue Santa through Dec. 1. In the application process, parents filled out Blue Santa tags with their kids’ clothing needs, favorite color, and hobbies so sponsors could cater their gifts towards a specific and personal experience for each child.

The largest Operation Blue Santa to date was during its second year when the program benefitted 50 local children, according to Hennessy.

He noted that this year’s program had to be kept small due to COVID-19, similar to its first year when he knew he wanted to help children at Christmastime but had to narrow down his idea in order to stand out from existing local charity programs.

Hennessy decided back in 2016 to build a unique program designed to help families struggling during the holiday season get back on their feet for one or two years, differing from local long-term assistance programs like the Salvation Army and Grace Connection.

“There’s always been a niche, it feels like, and we’ve seemed to fill that niche for four years,” Hennessy said, “Right after Thanksgiving, there are families that either didn’t realize they couldn’t afford Christmas, or something happened like their car broke down, and now they don’t know whether to fix the car or do Christmas.”

The Operation Blue Santa Facebook page reads that it provides relief to families who find themselves having to choose between Christmas presents and basic utility needs.

The program’s philosophy posted on the page reads, “All children deserve to smile on Christmas day. Christmas is one time during the year where the focus is on giving, with emphasis on the excitement in the child’s eye as he or she unwraps a present that is just for them.”

In an effort to avoid becoming overwhelmed, Operation Blue Santa was initially open to first-time applicants and families of the Towanda Area School District this year.

The Hennessy family thanked this year’s Operation Blue Santa community sponsors who made this all possible. They include the staff and members at the Bradford County YMCA; the teachers, administrators, staff members and students at the Towanda Area School District; the Towanda Fire Department; Towanda Area Education Association; Towanda schools that gave a monetary donation with a dress-down day; Kellogg Mountain Rod & Gun Club for a monetary donation; all the local residents who donated toys, supplies or monetary donations; those who sponsored a child by filling a Blue Santa tag(s); members of the Bradford County Domestic Relations office who filled a Blue Santa tag; and Guthrie Towanda Memorial Hospital ER and EMS who filled Blue Santa tags.

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