Friday, November 29, 2013

Wining with Santa

I've gotten involved with a very fun and Christmasy volunteer group over the last few weeks that's been stoking the whole "let's get into the Christmas spirit" vibe very nicely.  Although, the snow and chilly weather definitely helps in that department, too.  In Florida, it was always kind of a challenge to feel like the holidays were rolling around because the weather just didn't coincide with the holiday season in the traditional way.  And by traditional, I mean winter in New York!

It's time for the inevitable history portion of the post.  It's interesting, I swear!  The Kodiak archipeligo is a pretty large group of islands about 30 miles from the Alaska Peninsula and 158 miles across the Gulf of Alaska from Homer, Alaska.  The island chain is about 177 miles long and encompasses nearly 5,000 square miles, roughly the size of the state of Connecticut. Crazy, right?  I thought so.  See?  Interesting!  Somewhat.  :)
Within the island chain are maybe a half a dozen or so remote villages that aren't accessible by car.  They have indigenous names like Afognak Island, Ouzinkie, and Akhiok, and are home mostly to Alaska's Native People, called the Alutiiq.  (Ah-Loo-Tick)  The population of the villages can range anywhere from 30 to 300 people, and you can get to some of them by boat or ferry. - But, most are only accessible by float plane.  Talk about remote.  No running down to the 7-11 for them! 

I'm getting to the point, I promise.  The Coast Guard Spouses' Association of Kodiak (SAK) has facilitated a community outreach program that serves the remote villages called Santa to the Villages.  This is the 40th year of the program.  Being the good little joiner that I am, I joined the Spouses Association when we first got here & learned about this and several other volunteer programs sponsored by SAK.  I've met some really nice people that I would never have met if I hadn't branched out and made it a priority to get involved. 

Volunteer "elves" Carrie, Delores & Lindsey wrapping away
In a nutshell, Santa to the Villages volunteers work year round by coordinating with the rural schools, the community of Kodiak, USCG Air Station Kodiak, USCG Base Kodiak, USCG Cutter SPAR, and supporters throughout the United States to raise funds, and collect donations to coordinate the delivery of toys, Christmas stockings, hand-knitted hats/scarves/mittens, and books to the children of the remote villages.  And yes, I pretty much lifted that description directly from the Santa to the Villages page!

Presents ready to be wrapped
for the village of Port Lions
So for the last month or so, I've been spending time helping to organize toys and books, taking inventory of santa and elf costumes, and wrapping presents that will be delivered to the kids in the remote villages.  The presents are delivered via Coast Guard helicopter by volunteers dressed as Santa & his elf helpers.  Fun!  Can you imagine being a kid in one of those villages and seeing Santa hop off a Coast Guard helicopter to give you presents?  It's like the remote Alaskan version of seeing Santa ride by on a fire truck in your town's Christmas parade.  Only he has gifts for you!

More importantly    :)
Recently, we had a wine wrapping party, where a bunch of us got together one evening and wrapped presents.  While enjoying some wine and cookies.  Christmas music?  Check.  It was a fun night, and we knocked out all the present wrapping for one of the villages and a good chunk of another.

I discovered when we lived in Key West how truly fulfilling and personally satisfying it is to volunteer.  It's such a great way to get out and meet like-minded people and a really nice way to do something outside of your own world that matters and makes a difference for someone else.  It's cliche, but it feels really good doing things to help other people in a concrete way.  Plus, it gets you focused on something other than your own thoughts and worries.  Which, as we all know, can sometimes be consuming.

"Elf" Wendy wrapping like a boss
We have a designated "elf house" on base which acts as the headquarters and center of operations for organizing and wrapping. - It's located just down the hill from our house, so I was able to walk down to the wine wrapping party.

On my way back home, I was treated to one of the clearest, most impressive night skies I've ever seen.  It was truly remarkable, and I stopped and just stared up at the sky at least 3 or 4 times on my walk home.  I could almost see the Milky Way galaxy, and could easily make out the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Seven Sisters, North Star, and Orion.  That's about the extent of my identification skills go, astronomy-wise.  There were so many constellations visible & it was unbelievably clear, bright and beautiful.

The only thing that could have made it better would have been an aurora borealis sighting!  I've been on the hunt for the northern lights, but haven't seen it yet.  That's most definitely on my Alaska bucket list.  You can bet I'll blog about that when I see it!

So, Santa to the Villages has been a fun charitable group to be involved with for the holidays this year.  I can't wait to see the pictures they take of the present deliveries. - Especially the reaction of the kids.  I thought this was a fun shot from last year's Santa to the Villages:

Photo Credit:  The Kodiak Daily Mirror

It's time to get this holiday season rolling!  Bring on the bourbon balls (hubby makes a mean bourbon ball), festive decorations, and 24 hour rotations of A Christmas Story.  Raaaaalph-iieee!!

Ta-ta for now.

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