Operation Santa Claus brings Christmas miracle for St. Michael boy
Pickup trucks lined the edge of the airport in St. Michael on Tuesday afternoon, ready to haul the newly-arrived passenger into town.
This was no ordinary flight to the village, though. The men had their cellphones out, ready to capture pictures of Santa and Mrs. Claus departing the massive C-130.
It’s all part of Operation Santa Claus, put on by the Alaska National Guard with help from the Salvation Army, Costco and Tastee Freez.
For 61 years, Santa has taken time out of his busy schedule at the North Pole to visit rural communities around the state and spread Christmas joy a little early. He and the volunteers brought presents: new backpacks, schools supplies for 200 kids and ice cream for the whole town.
Inside the school, the crowd joined together in a loud rendition of "Jingle Bells" as they waited for their special guest.
“Santa!” said Leon Cheemuk.
The 7-year-old boy was sharply dressed in slacks, a blue collared shirt and a striped tie. Leon is a smiley, chatty first-grader, but his father said he’s had quite a few struggles in his short seven years.
"Leon was born one pound, five ounces. A miracle baby. He was in the hospital for a year-and-a-half,” Tom Cheemuk explained.
Tom is Leon’s biological grandfather, but adopted Leon as a baby and raised him as his own. Leon has cerebral palsy and uses a standing wheelchair at school. Tom said having physical limitations in the villages has its own challenges.
"He doesn't get around very much. Our dirt road is too much rocks,” Tom said.
Leon’s been working with Beth Ann Miner, the school’s special education teacher, to get his feet on the ground.
“Last spring, we were told he was about three years away from him walking,” Miner said.
But Santa brought some Christmas magic to the village.
“Look, Leon is walking!” said St. Michael mayor Bobbi Andrews. “He’s walking to Santa."
Leon just learned to walk last week and with a little help made his way to Santa’s lap. Tom was left nearly speechless, with tears building up in his eyes.
“I’m real proud of him. His mother is real proud of him,” Tom said.
Miner said it was the farthest Leon had ever walked.
"There's a strong belief in God, here in St. Michael, and people in the village that's the first time they saw that. I could feel their energy," she said.
As Leon and the there kids opened their presents, Santa and Mrs. Claus headed back to the North Pole knowing Christmas miracles come when and where they’re least expected.
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