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Operation Santa SLO County sees an increase in need with caseload going up during pandemic

Angel Russell

Each year, the SLO County Department of Social Services hosts a program called Operation Santa to help fulfill wishes from local children in need — and this year, they say the need has drastically increased.

Ava Farriday, a senior at Cal Poly SLO, is leading the way on campus in helping collect holiday gifts for SLO County’s Operation Santa.

The program helps fulfill wishes for kids in foster care, low-income and moderate-income families as well as seniors.

“I think it’s been a very hard last year for everybody in our community. I think especially low-income families are especially feeling the brunt of this pandemic," Farriday said. "So, to be able to alleviate any burden is very meaningful.”

Last year, Operation Santa fulfilled 1700 wishes — an 87 percent increase from the year before.

Marge Castle with SLO County Department of Social Services said she expects an even bigger need this year as the pandemic wears on.

“We are seeing our caseloads increase significantly," Castle said. " o along with that, generally the wishes increase as well.”

The wishes can be found on tags at various holiday towers located throughout the community. They have the name and age of the person, as well as what they are hoping to get this holiday season.

You may be surprised what most of these kids are wishing for.

“Most of our wishes actually are for clothing, usually warm clothing," Castle said. "But we do have kids that ask for various toys, and we do have some that dream big.”

Farriday said she’s volunteering to help fulfill wishes because she knows it’ll make a kid smile.

“I remember when I was kid, always looking forward to the holiday season," Farriday said. "I think it means a lot to the kids who aren’t necessarily expecting to get anything to be surprised to find gifts under the Christmas tree.”

Operation Santa Towers can be found at these locations:

Target, San Luis Obispo
Walmart, Paso Robles
Headstrong Fitness, San Luis Obispo
Sea Breeze Cupcakes, San Luis Obispo
Foss Farms Atascadero
Headstrong Fitness, Atascadero
American Riviera Bank (tags for both Operation Santa and Adult Protective Services)
Walmart, Arroyo Grande
Cal Poly
Kennedy Library Bldg. 35
University Union Bldg. 65
Center for Service in Action in the Science Building Bldg. 52, Room E22

For more information, call Marge Castle at (805) 788-2575.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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