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members of Rho Pi chapter of Alpha Phi Omega.

The Rho Pi chapter of Alpha Phi Omega is a co-ed community service fraternity. They started Operation Santa in 2007 to help those who may be experiencing temporary hardship that limits their ability to celebrate the holidays.

Operation Santa in Need of Elves

gift drop off.

To ensure the safety of adopters and nominated families, there are options to drop off gifts without direct contact, and donations are sanitized prior to delivery.

For some, the holiday season is synonymous with shopping for gifts and bountiful meals shared with loved ones. Yet this experience is not the reality for all families. To help those who may not have the means to celebrate, students in UC San Diego’s Alpha Phi Omega co-ed service fraternity are collecting food, clothing and toy donations as part of their annual Operation Santa program.

Each November, Alpha Phi Omega members from the Rho Pi chapter match students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members with individuals and families to sponsor for the holidays. Amanda Lee, a senior studying human biology, who is co-chair of the program this year, explained, “Many of the families that we help are impacted by life circumstances such as single-parent households, military families, victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, homeless or displaced families, families afflicted by cancer, and parents who lost their job or are working multiple jobs.”

For those who would like to get involved and “adopt” an individual or family, you can submit your contact information by Oct. 31 to be matched. Alpha Phi Omega will provide a wish list that can be used to select items to donate that would most benefit the family; the expected cost per individual is $25. The fraternity is also accepting online contributions to support the fundraiser.

adoptee family receiving donations in 2020.

In 2020, Operation Santa was able to help over 100 families and 500 individuals. Presents are delivered at the end of fall quarter.

Operation Santa has drawn participation from local community members as well, including Ee Ee Tan, who lives in Mira Mesa and has adopted families for the past several years. “We love knowing that we are able to bring smiles and happiness to children on Christmas morning,” said Tan. “And we are happy to lighten some parents’ load of providing their little ones with something special during the holiday season. We truly believe in paying it forward.”

The joy of giving back is what also inspires senior Joanne Yan to help lead the program. “While my family does not celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense, the holidays are still a time to get together,” said Yan, who is a senior studying human developmental sciences and psychology. “Being able to gather your loved ones at the end of the year is a blessing and makes the holiday season extra meaningful for me. I want to be able to share even the smallest bit of this warmth and happiness that I feel to others.”

Operation Santa started in 2007 with two families, and after more than a decade it has grown to support over 500 individuals and 100 families. The fraternity has received a significantly larger number of family nominations over the past two years as many were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

student with adoptee family.

Each year the students ask individuals and families for a wish list that is provided to adopters with a goal of providing clothing, toys and other necessities as possible.

“Especially due to the ongoing pandemic, we feel there is a greater need to extend compassion and to help everyone have something to smile about this holiday season,” said Lee. “Last year was one of our greatest years yet, and we hope to see the same support this year within the community.”

To ensure the safety of adopters and nominated families, individuals can request e-gift cards in lieu of physical gifts. Adopters will also have the option to directly deliver gifts to families, deliver gifts to Operation Santa Drop Off locations or have gifts picked up. Alpha Phi Omega hopes to resume their annual tradition of hosting a gift-wrapping workshop in November, so that adopters wrap their gifts on campus if they would like, following all UC San Diego safety guidelines.

“I have had the opportunity to take part in Operation Santa the past two years,” shared Lee. “It has been an extremely heartwarming experience adopting individuals, wrapping gifts and delivering a car full of presents. I am thrilled to share a little bit of love and joy to others this holiday season.”

For those who would like to learn more, visit the Operation Santa website.