Operation Santa brings magic to Hidden Valley students

Santa arrived at Hidden Valley Elementary on Dec. 18, not by sleigh, but by bus. His visit was part of the 11th annual Operation Santa visit. 

The program was started 11 years ago by Jennie Morris, who was then an Olympic High English teacher. Her students expressed concern about high poverty at some CMS schools. They wanted to do something to help. Operation Santa was born.

"They wanted to get a present for all 646 kids at Hidden Valley," said Morris. "I said, 'no way!' But we made it happen."

Today, there are more than 1,000 students at Hidden Valley Elementary and each one receives multiple gifts delivered by Santa and students from Olympic.

During the year, Olympic students host fundraisers, find sponsors and raise money to buy gifts for the Hidden Valley students. 

"This is my favorite time of year," said Hidden Valley Principal Michael Lungarini. "Operation Santa is one of the most beautiful things that happens in this city because it's kids helping kids."

Lungarini encouraged the Olympic students to get to know the younger students and greet them with handshakes, hugs or high-fives. The older students paired up and spread out to deliver presents in the classrooms. They sang songs, played games and helped the elementary students open presents.

Olympic Principal Erik Olejarczyk said his students are learning it can mean so much more to give than receive.

"This is what the holiday season is about," he said. "Sharing and doing for others. And the best part is that the Olympic students love doing it."

Junior Tatiana Graham has been a part of Operation Santa since her freshman year and said it's her favorite time of year.

"I love seeing these kids' faces," she said. "This is the first year I've delivered to pre-k and watching the little kids get really excited has put a smile on my face. I can't wait to come back next year."