At 6 p.m. on a calm, mild evening Monday, December 14, over 20 Operation Santa volunteers burst through the automatic doors of a Target storefront.
These volunteers, veterans and newbies alike, had one mission: To ensure no family who asked for help went without for the holiday season. Operation Santa is the Gulfport Police Department’s annual toy drive for families in need.
Francine Whitten, leader of organized chaos, has been an integral part of the cause for it’s almost 30-year run and, even if she won’t admit that to be true, her cohorts and fellow elves all agree: “This wouldn’t be a success without Francine at the helm,” said Operation Santa volunteer and GPD employee Margaret Palmisano.
“It’s all about the children,” City of Gulfport Records Clerk Shirley Dibucci said. “I’ve been volunteering with the event for the past eight years; this is the first year I’ve helped with the shopping though.”
Dibucci added, “I think that we’ve all been, at one time in life, needing help. It’s always about giving back. If it’s as easy as this, just doing a little shopping, why not?”
With donations from residents, local businesses, universities and organizations, Operation Santa volunteers spent $2,851.48 at Target, filling carts and fulfilling dreams.