By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

SPRINGFIELD – As a Santa’s helper, 18-year-old Julia McGrath is all set for the December duties and festivities that accompany the archdiocesan-sponsored Operation Santa Claus: collecting toys, cutting reams of wrapping paper, unraveling spools of curling ribbon, sorting, wrapping, bagging, boxing and delivering presents to children in need.

A senior at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, McGrath is one of approximately 2,000 high school students across the Archdiocese who will work at a designated Operation Santa Claus wrapping center in Center City after school hours and on weekends Wednesday, Dec. 9, through Monday, Dec. 21.

On Christmas Eve day, the high school students and their adult chaperones deliver the toys to the families in need.

Now in its 42nd year, Operation Santa Claus is sponsored by the Office for Youth and Young Adults.

“It’s like the North Pole,” McGrath said of the hours she and other teens spend at the fun-filled workshop. “Everyone’s having a good time wrapping the gifts. It’s cool because there are always people stopping by donating more gifts. There’s always a lot going on.”

But delivering the presents is by far the best part of being a Santa’s helper, she said. “It’s just an amazing experience. You’re in these families’ homes and you see what a big difference you’re making in their lives.”

And that, she said, is what Christmas is all about – celebrating “the best day of the year.”

Jesus’ birthday, she continued, is a reminder that “He’s here, He’s real and He’s with us every day.”

McGrath is a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Springfield, Delaware County, and a 2006 alumna of the parish’s elementary school.

The oldest of Paul and Joanna McGrath’s three daughters said she is grateful for the bountiful Christmases she received throughout her childhood.

“I’ve been really blessed,” she said. “I’ve always been able to have a Christmas. I just want to make sure I can help other people who aren’t as lucky as me.”

This will be McGrath’s fourth year as a volunteer with Operation Santa Claus.

Her parents and sisters, Kristin, a freshman at Cardinal O’Hara High, and Jenna, a sixth-grader at St. Francis of Assisi School, also contribute to the cause by donating toys.

McGrath and the rest of the Operation Santa Claus crew are also counting on the faithful of the Archdiocese to help them deliver a merry Christmas to the less fortunate.

“Even if they can just donate one toy, it makes a huge difference. They’ll make a little kid’s Christmas who might not have had a Christmas,” she said.

At Cardinal O’Hara, McGrath is a member of the swim team, World Heritage Club, rosary club and Respect Life Club.

Upholding the sanctity of life is a high priority to her. She prays the rosary daily and has participated in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., and in prayer vigils outside abortion clinics in Philadelphia.

McGrath’s community service work includes playing basketball and making arts and crafts with the developmentally disabled boys at Don Guanella School in Springfield, Delaware County.

McGrath encourages her peers and other “elves” to sign up for Operation Santa Claus. “You definitely make great friendships,” she said. “I look forward to this all year.”

Volunteers of all ages are needed from Dec. 9 through Dec. 24.

To register to volunteer or for more information, visit the web site or call OYYA at 215-965-4636.

Monetary donations may be sent to Operation Santa Claus, 222 N. 17th St., Room 200, Philadelphia, PA 19103.

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or