900 gift bags, 400 bicycles distributed to military kids

Santa greets the crowd waiting outside Hangar 34 at the start of Operation Holiday Gift Drop. The first in line arrived at 5:30 a.m.

Photo by Andrea Howry / Lighthouse

Santa greets the crowd waiting outside Hangar 34 at the start of Operation Holiday Gift Drop. The first in line arrived at 5:30 a.m.

Scott Henske Jr., 9, gets ready to tear into the gift bag he received during the Dec. 16 Operation Holiday Gift Drop. His dad is a chief equipment operator with NMCB 4.

Photo by Andrea Howry / Lighthouse

Scott Henske Jr., 9, gets ready to tear into the gift bag he received during the Dec. 16 Operation Holiday Gift Drop. His dad is a chief equipment operator with NMCB 4.

Marisabella Rivera, 1, falls in love with the stuffed animal she pulled out of the gift bag she received during Operation Holiday Gift Drop. She is the daughter of Maria and UT2 Javier Rivera of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5.

Marisabella Rivera, 1, falls in love with the stuffed animal she pulled out of the gift bag she received during Operation Holiday Gift Drop. She is the daughter of Maria and UT2 Javier Rivera of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5.

Grayson Sturtevant, 3, plugs his ears — no such luck for his dad, EO1 Russell Sturtevant of NMCB 4 — as a C-130 carrying Santa pulls up next to Hangar 34 at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, at the start of Operation Holiday Gift Drop, an annual event for military families put on by a local congressman.

Photo by Andrea Howry / Lighthouse

Grayson Sturtevant, 3, plugs his ears — no such luck for his dad, EO1 Russell Sturtevant of NMCB 4 — as a C-130 carrying Santa pulls up next to Hangar 34 at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, at the start of Operation Holiday Gift Drop, an annual event for military families put on by a local congressman.

More than 900 gift bags and 400 bicycles fill a large portion of Hangar 34 the morning of Operation Holiday Gift Drop on Sunday, Dec. 16.

Photo by Andrea Howry / Lighthouse

More than 900 gift bags and 400 bicycles fill a large portion of Hangar 34 the morning of Operation Holiday Gift Drop on Sunday, Dec. 16.

Capt. Larry Vasquez, left, commanding officer of Naval Base Ventura County, looks on as U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly greets Capt. David Sasek, chief staff officer of the base. Gallegly, who retired this month, has sponsored this event for 10 years.

Capt. Larry Vasquez, left, commanding officer of Naval Base Ventura County, looks on as U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly greets Capt. David Sasek, chief staff officer of the base. Gallegly, who retired this month, has sponsored this event for 10 years.

As they are every year, the numbers are astounding: 900 gift bags, 400 bicycles — row after row of presents lined up in massive Hangar 34 along the flightline at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) Point Mugu.

“This is amazing!” said Capt. Larry Vasquez, clearly enjoying his first Operation Holiday Gift Drop as commanding officer of NBVC.

For the 10th year, U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, said thank you to military families by distributing toys and bikes to children of those on active duty or mobilized Reserves.

The Dec. 16 event began shortly after noon with Santa and his helpers disembarking a C-130 aircraft next to the hangar and shaking hands with the hundreds of children standing in line with their parents for a gift bag and the chance to receive a free bicycle or motorized car.

First in line were 2-year-old Chloe and 1-year-old Seeley, who came at 5:30 in the morning with Mom and Dad, Sherri and Utilitiesman 2nd Class Kendall Batson of the 31st Seabee Readiness Group.

“We came last year at about 10 a.m. and didn’t get anything, so we came earlier this year,” explained Sherri, who stayed in line for seven hours despite being 37 weeks pregnant.

This time, they didn’t leave empty-handed — no family did, in fact.

“I think it’s great,” Batson said as he juggled the overflowing toy bags.

Like the Batsons, many families spent hours together in line, playing board games and catching up with other families.

“Four hours went by so fast,” said Sheryl Melbourne, the wife of Chief Equipment Operator Marvin Melbourne of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 and mom of 4-year-old Amira. “This is such a great thing to look forward to over the holidays. And you can’t beat it for toys!”

For Gallegly, this is a year-round project. By the time December rolls around, his home is filled with toys waiting to be stuffed into gift bags.

“It used to be food,” he said. “Then we branched out into toys.”

This year, he also supplied 500 turkeys for Thanksgiving.

Gallegly retired from Congress this month, but his friends say Operation Gift Drop won’t stop.

“This will continue,” said Jack Howard of Newbury Park, who has volunteered with the event for six years.

Families said nothing would please them more.

“Everyone thinks military families have oodles of money, but that’s not the case,” said Corinna Savage, mom to 6-year-old Kyle and wife of Chief Builder Sean Savage of NMCB 4. “Everything helps.”

She smiled as she looked into the gift bag and saw something attached to an electronic toy.

“Look!” she said. “They gave us batteries! That’s awesome.”

Gift bags were separated by gender and age, so youngsters were guaranteed to find something they’d like. There were no scenes out of “A Christmas Story” — no pink bunny suits for a 9-year-old boy.

Instead there were basketballs and radio-controlled cars, several of which kept their new owners entertained as they waited for the bike raffle to start.

Sometimes, Christmas does come early.

© 2013 Ventura County Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Commanding Officer

CAPT. LARRY VASQUEZ

Chief Staff Officer

CAPT. SCOTT LOESCHKE

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ANDREA HOWRY, 805-989-5281

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Ventura County Star - 805-437-0000

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