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Students from Alpha Phi Omega, the coed service fraternity which sponsors “Operation Santa” each year. Photo courtesy of Alpha Phi Omega.

Campus Community Spreads Spirit of Giving this Holiday Season

‘Tis the season for giving and members of the UC San Diego community are spreading holiday cheer to those in need in myriad ways. From donating to toy drives to serving meals and supporting fundraisers, campus volunteers are exemplifying UC San Diego’s commitment to service. Earlier this year, Washington Monthly recognized UC San Diego as the No. 1 college in the nation, for the fifth consecutive year, for its contributions to the public good. The rankings are based on three categories, one of which is service––encouraging students to give back.

“UC San Diego’s commitment to service is one of our most important values as a public university,” said Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “We take pride in our efforts of giving back to the community through education, research, patient care and volunteer projects.”

Operation Santa helps families in need

UC San Diego’s charitable efforts kick off each year with “Operation Santa,” an initiative by UC San Diego’s Alpha Phi Omega, a coed service fraternity dedicated to community service and leadership. Since 2007, Operation Santa has provided Christmas celebrations for 562 San Diego families who are facing financial hardship. Many of the families served by “Operation Santa” are led by single mothers as well as those who are victims of domestic violence, facing illness, experiencing the loss of a family member or struggling financially. Each year, Alpha Phi Omega encourages community members to nominate families in need and gives individuals and organizations the opportunity to participate as “adopters.” Operation Santa matches families with “adopters” who, after receiving the nominated family’s gift wish list, buy, wrap and deliver holiday presents to families by Dec. 24. To nominate a family or donate to “Operation Santa,” visit their website.

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Students from Alpha Phi Omega, the service, coed fraternity which sponsors “Operation Santa” each year.

“Unlike other nonprofits, this one is completely run by college students who are fueled by our desire to serve our community,” said Alpha Phi Omega president Jen Otoshi.

People can also become involved in “Operation Santa” by providing monetary and non-monetary donations, such as toys and other necessities. This year, for example, the Torrey Pines Rotary Club donated more than 220 stuffed toys and animals to “Operation Santa.” In addition, UC San Diego’s Greek Week 2014, held Nov. 18 to 20, also contributed to the program. Throughout the week, fraternities and sororities participated in cook-offs, talent shows and Facebook contests, all of which raised proceeds for the program.

“Participating in ‘Operation Santa’ is an eye-opening experience,” Otoshi added. “We dedicate our hearts and souls to giving the best aid we can. While it is hard work, being an integral part of ‘Operation Santa’ is immensely rewarding because I know I have made a difference at the end of each day.”

Tritons give back

The giving spirit is also strong among UC San Diego’s Triton athletes. On Nov. 22, the baseball team split up into two groups so half the team could participate in a beach cleanup and the other half could volunteer at the San Diego Rescue Mission homeless shelter. According to Noah Jackson, an assistant in athletics, the team enjoyed the beach cleanup experience, as it promoted a healthy environment for the San Diego community.  For the San Diego Rescue Mission, the team walked the streets of downtown San Diego with flyers, inviting the homeless to a Thanksgiving meal the Mission hosted on Nov. 24.

“Our student-athletes are proactive about helping out in our community and are looking forward to giving back with more events like this in the future,” said Jackson.

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Students from “Operation Santa” wrapping presents for families in need.

Staff shows support

In addition to students, UC San Diego staff members are spreading the holiday joy as well. On Dec. 10, the UC San Diego Staff Association held its annual holiday toy drive in concordance with the 40th annual pancake breakfast. Invitees were encouraged to bring new and unwrapped toys to the event. The toy drive benefits children at the Polinsky Children’s Center, Promises2Kids of the San Diego Child Abuse Prevention Foundation, the UC San Diego Neonatal Unit and the Bannister Family House. Recipients also include children at the UC San Diego Burn Unit, UCSD Mother-Child-Adolescent HIV Program, “Voices for Children” - Foster Care Charity and the Gabriel House of Mexico orphanage.

“Giving back to our community has always been an integral part to this tradition,” said Ange Mason, education program manager at the San Diego Supercomputer Center and chair of the pancake breakfast. “I think everyone involved with this event finds a lot of joy knowing it will benefit those in need this holiday season.”

Pancake breakfast attendees also had the opportunity to bring toiletries, gently used clothing and new undergarments for the UC San Diego Veterans Staff and Faculty Association Clothing Drive. The donations go to the Veteran’s Village of San Diego to provide for many homeless male and female veterans in San Diego County.

Volunteer50 honors those who have served

Volunteer50, a campus-wide initiative that aims to inspire and celebrate community service at UC San Diego, also is serving veterans this holiday season. On Dec. 13, volunteers from the initiative will join the nonprofit organization “Wreaths Across America” to lay wreaths on the graves of veterans at Miramar National Cemetery. The service event is part of a nation-wide day of tribute to the contributions veterans have made to their country.