By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA – The help of “elves” of all ages is needed for Operation Santa Claus, an annual outreach effort sponsored by the archdiocesan Office for Youth and Young Adults (OYYA).

Now in its 42nd year, Operation Santa Claus volunteers collect, wrap and deliver toys for more than 3,500 underprivileged children across the Archdiocese.

Each December, Catholic grade schools and high schools, as well as parishes and businesses in the region, collect new toys for more than 700 families and community groups through the initiative.

Approximately 2,000 high school students report to a designated Operation Santa Claus wrapping center in Center City to sort, wrap, bag and box toys after school hours and on weekends beginning Wednesday, Dec. 9, through Monday, Dec. 21.

The toys are then transported to three satellite centers in Philadelphia and assigned a distribution route. On Christmas Eve day, high school students and their adult chaperones deliver the toys to the families in need.

“Operation Santa Claus brings many people together to serve the common good; in this case, children who, for a number of reasons, would go without receiving a toy, a gift, at Christmas,” said John J. Tague, director of OYYA. He commended the OYYA staff, students, adult volunteers and families who work tirelessly to bring Christmas to children in need.

All the faithful of the Archdiocese are asked to contribute a new toy, their time or treasure to Operation Santa Claus.

Toys for boys and girls of all ages are accepted. However, there is a pressing need for toys for newborns, preschool-age children and youths between the ages of 11 and 14.

In addition to dolls and dollhouses, jump ropes, arts and crafts, cars, trucks, books, board games and scores of other traditional toys, MP3 players, CD players and hand-held electronic games are among the more popular items on the youngsters’ wish lists.

Contributions of batteries, wrapping paper, tape and curling ribbon are also welcome.

Toy guns and war toys will not be accepted, nor will food or clothing – except for hats, gloves and scarves for older children. See the Operation Santa Claus web site for a complete list of gift ideas.

Toys may be dropped off from 1 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6, at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church, Route 202 and East Pleasant Grove Road in West Chester, Chester County, or during business hours Wednesday, Dec. 9, through Wednesday, Dec. 16, in the lobby of the Archdiocesan Office Center, 222 N. 17th St. in Philadelphia, located behind the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

Numerous other churches and Catholic high schools across the Archdiocese have been designated as toy pick-up sites. To determine the site closest to you, as well as dates and times to deliver unwrapped toys, contact OYYA.

Families, young adults and the young at heart are also welcome to assist at the wrapping center on weekends.

Operation Santa Claus concludes with the celebration of the Christmas vigil Mass from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24, at the Drexelbrook in Drexel Hill, Delaware County. Auxiliary Bishop Joseph P. McFadden will be the principal celebrant and homilist.

Tague said Operation Santa Claus could not exist as an annual event if it were not for the faithful who display “the generous spirit of Jesus, whose birth provides the true reason for the celebration of Christmas.”

Volunteers of all ages are needed from Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 9, through late afternoon Christmas Eve, Thursday, Dec. 24.

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

To contribute a monetary donation, send payment to Operation Santa Claus at the Office for Youth and Young Adults, 222 N. 17th St., Room 200, Philadelphia, PA 19103.

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