SUPAI — Christmas came early last week for 178 Supai Village children.
Santa Claus brought gifts and Ronald McDonald brought food with an escort from the Marines during the fifth year of Operation Supai.
Santa Claus holds a Supai Village youngster during last week's event.
The Marine Corps League in Flagstaff along with Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and the Marine Corps Reserve Helicopter Squad from Edwards Air Force Base near Palmdale, Calif., delighted all in the isolated village of nearly 500 people.
Toys for Tots, which services thousands of northern Arizona children under 12 years of age, has become an annual highlight for the Havasupai children. Military cargo helicopters brought the toys, McDonald's Happy Meals and other food boxes to the village, which can be reached only on foot, mule or by copter.
Santa Claus, accompanied by Mrs. Claus and an elf, emerged from one copter to bring smiles to young faces.
“It went very well,” retired Marine Barry Allen said. “And we were able to take building materials for four more houses down there.”
In all, the Marines made about 60 flights in and out of the area over a three-day period hauling materials, presents and Big Macs.
“This is really the only Santa Claus they know,” Allen said about the Havasupai kids. “It’s been the same guy every year, Dick McCallum.”
McCallum may be well known to Grand Canyon-area folks as a former river runner. He led expeditions down the Colorado River for two decades.
The Supai airlift always draws plenty of press from around the country. This year, reporters from the Los Angeles Times and NBC’s “Good Morning America” were among those covering the story.
“It’s the most remote native American village in the United States,” Allen said. “That gets a lot of press.”
McDonald’s is a big part of Toys for Tots and has been a major sponsor each year. All McDonald’s in northern Arizona, which are owned by the same person, become involved.
Kalil Bottling is another major sponsor and they donated RC Cola and Gatorade to this year’s event.