Santa gets chopper ride to remote Alaska village
Santa Claus arriving in Alaska
"Napakiak is happy today," she proclaimed to principal Sally Benedict.
That's a rare emotion of late for the 300 or so residents of this western Alaska community. "We're falling into the Kuskokwim River," Benedict explains, because of erosion that is forcing everyone to move their town farther inland.
In pic: Santa Claus arriving in Napakiak, Alaska, on an Alaska National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
Operation Santa Claus
"This lightens the load," said Benedict, a former Detroit educator who arrived last summer. "This is sunshine for us. It's a brightening of our day."
In pic: Santa Claus having his photo taken with Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe, the adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard during a visit to Napakiak, Alaska.
The program started in 1956 when the residents of St. Mary's, Alaska, had no money to buy children Christmas presents after flooding severely impacted hunting and fishing. Since then, Guard members try to visit at least two rural communities a year, delivering Christmas gifts and other needed supplies.
They've been to remote burgs with names like Koyukuk, Savoonga, Illiamna, Kwethluk and Tuntuliak. The visit to Napakiak involved two aircraft: a 400-mile (644-kilometer) trip in a small airplane from Anchorage, then a five-minute helicopter ride to the village.
In pic: Alaska National Guard Staff Sgt. Joseph Sallaffie handing a gift bag to Corban Jimmy while Marlene Black looks on during Santa's visit to Napakiak, Alaska.
The Salvation Army is celebrating its 50th year of helping the Guard, collecting gifts, book bags and other items to be distributed. Major corporate sponsors like Costco and Walmart contribute to the program, and Rich Owens for years has provided the ice cream from his Tastee Freez restaurant in Anchorage.
In pic: Four-wheelers parked outside the public school in Napakiak, Alaska.
Serving ice cream to people
This year alone, Napakiak's erosion has been responsible for more than 100 feet (30 meters) of lost shoreline.
Erosion also threatens the school, which sits less than 200 feet (60 meters) feet from the river.
In pic: Alaska National Guard Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe, left, 2nd Lt. Ryan Newton, middle, and Anchorage restaurant owner Rich Owens serve ice cream to the townspeople of Napakiak, Alaska.
Focusssing on smiles
But at least for one day, the residents of Napakiak didn't have to worry about the erosion creeping ever closer to their homes, and instead could focus on the smiles or even smudges of chocolate from the ice cream sundaes on their children's faces.
In pic: 6-month-old Rebecca Ilmar having her photo taken with Santa Claus in Napakiak, Alaska.