ANCHORAGE, AK (KTUU) - The man in the big red suit took a special trip to St. Michael on Tuesday with the Alaska National Guard and Salvation Army for Operation Santa Claus. It's a mission to bring joy to children living in rural communities year after year, that started more than 50 years ago.
Mr. and Mrs. Claus travel to St. Michael for Operation Santa Claus.
Jenni Ragland, chair for the project's advisory committee, says Operation Santa Claus is a way to bring a unique experience to children who may not otherwise have the opportunity to visit Santa Claus.
"If they don't get to Anchorage or Fairbanks or some place where there's Santa, this may be their only opportunity they have, so really you know they're excited," Ragland said.
Leon Cheemuk, 7, was Santa's first guest.
The first-grader has cerebral palsy, but made a breakthrough recently.
Making his way to Santa's lap with the help of his father, Tommy Cheemuk, and teacher, BethAnn Miner, Leon walked to meet his new friend.
"He just started walking this week at 7 years old. He's so excited," Miner said.
Ragland says it's those moments that stay with volunteers.
"Those are the kind of things you take home with you and you think it's great to be part of this program," Ragland said.
In addition to sharing their wish lists with Santa, community members walked away with presents, books, school supplies and sweet treats from Tastee Freeze.
"It means that there's a lot of love left in the world and caring people," said Palsson Fitka, while waiting for the guest of honor to show up.
While Mr. and Mrs. Claus are often associated with children, Natalia Akaran, 78, also took a seat on Santa's lap.
While Akaran is unable to hear, her daughter, Dorothy Lockwood, said the family wanted to see her picture with Santa.
"(You're) never too old to believe," Lockwood said.
Editor's Note: Natalia Akaran's age has been corrected to 78, not 68 as originally reported.