It is that gathering of the elders that determines who gets what goods that has created so many memories for all who have shared in the Operation Christmas Drop magic, memories that have lasted almost as long as the event itself.
“Every Christmas drop is special for the island,” said Santos Bugoman, an 18-year resident of Woleai. “We all have our own memories of (Operation Christmas Drop’s) past. I got my first pair of shoes in one of my first Christmas drops, and it’s something I will always remember and cherish. I wore them until I had completely outgrown them and blisters were forming because they were too small. Maybe I was being just a little bit sentimental, but they were so special to me I didn’t want to let go of them.”
While memories of toys and shoes are what the children cherish, for the elders it is the food, medicine and other supplies that have meant the most over the years.
“We all have childhood (memories) of seeing the planes fly overhead,” Riugiufmal said. “As we each grew older, we truly understood how important (Operation Christmas Drop) is for the islands. These bundles have toys, yes, but they more importantly carry bags of rice to help feed the 500 villagers we have here. The parachutes and their rigging are used to make sails for our boats and the wire for our spear guns. Some of our bundles were sent solely for our school and contained the educational supplies our students need to thrive.
“Those items are what matter to us and what we appreciate most. Those items, and (Operation Christmas Drop) in general, is what brings us together as a community. I saw some school children saying, ‘Thank you Christmas drop’ for the camera. That does not do it justice. On behalf of everyone on this island, our chiefs, our elders (and) our school children, thank you (Operation Christmas Drop), thank you for all that you have shared with us over the years.”