From the Homefront: Coast Guard units spread holiday cheer across the nation

Santa delivers gifts by helicopter and by Coast Guard cutter to children in seven remote villages in Alaska. Photos courtesy of Krystle Dube.

Santa delivers gifts by helicopter and by Coast Guard cutter to children in seven remote villages in Alaska. Photos courtesy of Krystle Dube.

Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 16 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Military Family Advisory Network.

Written by Shelley Kimball

Although we may live in communities for just a few years, Coast Guard families find ways to make it home, and that often means finding ways to give back.

This year, four holiday events from locations spanning nearly 13,000 miles join service members and their communities in unique ways as the celebrate the season.

Kodiak’s Santa to the Villages event

Coast Guard members and families at Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, deliver Christmas to families in seven remote, rural villages, through a program called Santa to the Villages. This is the 42nd year since two active duty Coast Guard members and their families began the program.

The Spouses Association of Kodiak carries on a 42-year-old tradition of bringing Christmas to seven remote villages in Alaska through a program called Santa to the Villages. Photos courtesy of Krystle Dube.

The Spouses Association of Kodiak carries on a 42-year-old tradition of bringing Christmas to seven remote villages in Alaska through a program called Santa to the Villages. Photos courtesy of Krystle Dube.

The Spouses Association of Kodiak now heads up the planning and provides toys and stockings filled with fresh fruit, homemade knitted hats and mittens, and gifts to the children in the villages.

“Many of these children would normally have no Christmas gifts without this program or the opportunity to meet Santa,” said Krystle Dube, the chairman of the program.

Dube said volunteers work countless hours, beginning right after the holiday season ends to prepare for the next year, to coordinate with the villages and find specific gifts for each person on Santa’s list. This year, there are 278.

The group also counts on donations of time, money and toys from residents, both in Alaska and in the lower 48 stations.

Volunteers from all over the country send hand-knitted hats and gloves to include in the Christmas stockings delivered to the children. Photos courtesy of Krystle Dube.

Volunteers from all over the country send hand-knitted hats and gloves to include in the Christmas stockings delivered to the children. Photos courtesy of Krystle Dube.

“Getting these donations has been a major help,” Dube said. “As for the hats and mittens, we have been blessed with several groups of people living in the lower 48 who participate every year. These amazing individuals spend hours and hours knitting hundreds of hats and mittens for us. They then generously ship their donations all the way to us here in Kodiak.”

They spend much of the late summer and fall gathering and wrapping the gifts. The deliveries will take place in the second week of December. Santa, his elves, and all the goodies will be flown by helicopter to the villages of Akhiok, Chiniak, Danger Bay, Karluck, Larsen Bay, Ouzinkie, and Port Lions. The Coast Guard Cutter Hickory will deliver the gifts to Old Harbor, Alaska.

“The USCG Air Station Base Kodiak, Santa, and his elves personally deliver these items via helicopter in an exciting and grand entrance to these villages, providing not only toys and fruit but also the magic of Christmas with memories of a lifetime,” Dube said.

Chicago’s Christmas Ship

Crew members of the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw begin unloading some of the more than 1,200 Christmas trees before the Christmas Ship ceremony at Chicago's Navy Pier, Dec. 6, 2014. The cutter and crew are in Chicago to help re-enact the tradition of the original Chicago Christmas Ship from the late 1800s and early 1900s, and are partnering with the Chicago maritime community to bring more than 1,200 Christmas trees to needy families in Chicago. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Alan Haraf)

Crew members of the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw begin unloading some of the more than 1,200 Christmas trees before the Christmas Ship ceremony at Chicago’s Navy Pier, Dec. 6, 2014. The cutter and crew are in Chicago to help re-enact the tradition of the original Chicago Christmas Ship from the late 1800s and early 1900s, and are partnering with the Chicago maritime community to bring more than 1,200 Christmas trees to needy families in Chicago. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Alan Haraf)

Chicago’s Christmas Ship is a re-enactment of sorts of a holiday tradition for the past 16 years. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw loads up hundreds of Christmas trees and delivers them to the Port of Chicago, where volunteers help distribute them to Chicago families in need. It’s a tradition that memorializes the Schuenemann family, who sold Christmas trees and wreaths directly from their ship in Chicago’s Harbor in the early 1900’s. The family was in business from about 1898 until 1912, when their ship was lost in Lake Michigan, near Wisconsin.

Coast Guard Cutter Cutter Mackinaw, the Coast Guard’s only heavy ice-breaker in the Great Lakes, collects trees from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and delivers them through Lake Michigan to Chicago, just as the Schuenmann family did more than 100 years ago. This year, the cutter will arrive Dec. 2, and trees will be offloaded and donated to Chicago families the next day.

Nantucket’s Christmas Stroll

Crewmembers from U.S. Coast Guard Station Brant Point in Nantucket, Mass., hoist a nine-foot holiday wreath onto Brant Point Lighthouse, Dec. 2, 2013, in celebration for the holiday season. The station annually decorates the lighthouse with a wreath during the month of December. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Krystyna Hannum)

Crewmembers from U.S. Coast Guard Station Brant Point in Nantucket, Mass., hoist a nine-foot holiday wreath onto Brant Point Lighthouse, Dec. 2, 2013, in celebration for the holiday season. The station annually decorates the lighthouse with a wreath during the month of December. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Krystyna Hannum)

Coast Guard Station Brant Point, Massachusetts has been participating in the Nantucket Christmas Stroll for at least 17 years. One of the highlights of the event is Santa’s arrival by cutter to visit with children on the island off Cape Cod.

“The Coast Guard transports Santa by boat from Brant Point to Straight Wharf,” said Janet Schulte, the executive director of the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a unique tradition for a Santa arrival and perfectly appropriate for Nantucket Island.”

The Coast Guard is also known to participate in a competition among local business, scout troops, schools and non-profits for the best decorated Christmas tree. Schulte said the Coast Guard tree is often one of the top contenders.

“It’s part of what makes holidays on Nantucket so special,” she said.

Coast Guard sister city in Guam

Coast Guard Sector Guam adopts a village across the Cocos Lagoon and delivers Christmas to them.

Coast Guard Sector Guam provides gifts and a holiday party to the village of Merizo, its sister city across the lagoon. Photos courtesy of Trish Pruett.

Coast Guard Sector Guam provides gifts and a holiday party to the village of Merizo, its sister city across the lagoon. Photos courtesy of Trish Pruett.

At the end of World War II, the island of Guam was liberated from the Japanese. At that time, the Coast Guard established a LORAN station, or long range navigation station, on Cocos Island, a small island off the village of Merizo. Due to the island’s close proximity to the LORAN station, the Coast Guard adopted Merizo, a small village with about 2,000 residents, as its sister city.

Each holiday season, Coast Guard families in Sector Guam set up an angel tree for the entire village. The village sends the sector a list of the names and ages of the children to include on the list, said Trish Pruett, whose husband Capt. James Pruett is the commanding officer of Sector Guam.

“A week or so before Christmas the Sector loads up the gifts and arrives with Santa by boat to the pier,” she said.

Everyone gathers for a holiday party at a community park, complete with a Christmas tree and caroling. And, of course, the gifts.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

“For some of these children it is one of the only gifts they will receive,” Pruett said.

We know there are many more holiday projects in Coast Guard communities, and we want to hear about them. What are you doing? Share your stories with all of us!

Happy holidays to your and yours!!

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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