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U.S. Air Force Launches 57th Annual Operation Christmas Drop in Pacific Islands of Micronesia – “Largest Ever”

 By the Numbers

  • 57th Annual Operation Christmas Drop

  • 186 crates

  • 68 islands

  • $35,000 donated from the community

  • 46,500 pounds of gifts and supplies
 A Christmas supply box, dropped from a C-130E transport plane, floats toward one of the many Islands of Chuuk during a previous Operation Christmas Drop. (Pacific Daily News file photo)

The U.S. Air Force will parachute more than 20 tons of donated items to Pacific Islanders throughout Micronesia during the 57th annual Operation Christmas Drop this week. Operation Christmas Drop is the longest running organized air drop in the world and one of the largest charity efforts in the Pacific. For the second year in a row, Operation Christmas Drop will be the largest ever.

Yesterday, Capt. Adam Rector, Christmas Drop vice president, said he was stunned once again by the bottomless generosity of the community of Guam. The Christmas Drop will parachute 46,500 pounds of donated gifts and lifesaving supplies to 68 isolated islands throughout Micronesia, he said. "We have had a huge outpouring of generosity from the people of Guam. Our donation boxes filled up so quickly this year," he said. "Again, they continue to impress me." The Army, Navy and Air Force also united to collect about 74 parachutes for this year's drop.

Rector said he had expected donations to decline this year because of the troubled economy. The rising cost of gas and food has driven many families to cut back this Christmas and said he was surprised so much was donated. Clothing, toys, canned food, tools, fishing equipment and medical supplies were all sorely needed for the drop. Rector said about $35,000 also was donated from the community.

Operation Christmas Drop is an annual mission of charity flown by the U.S. Air Force. Every year, cargo planes fly out of Andersen Air Force base in December and parachute supplies to needy islanders.

According to an Air Force news release, the drop began in 1952 when residents on Kapingamarangi, a tiny island, part of Pohnpei State in the Federated States of Micronesia waved to a bomber that had been converted to a weather plane as it flew overhead. The crew gathered all the supplies they could and dropped the goods to the islanders. This week, airmen will do it again, on a much larger scale.

A C-130 Hercules cargo plane will lift off for a seven-hour flight heading for the Chuuk Lagoon at about 11 a.m., according to an e-mail from Major Richelle Dowdell of the Andersen Public Affairs office. The plane will drop two 250-pound crates on each of the Micronesian islands of Epin, Polle, Wonip, Fason, Paata, Fono, Falapanges and Udot.

Rector said the crates are more wisely packed than the gifts last year. Although clothing and toys are welcome, the neediest islands visited by the Christmas Drop are starved for fishing equipment, tools and medicine. After last year's drop, Ermenio Max, mayor of the Chuuk island of Ono, said his island would cherish modern fishing equipment. Peter Malmai, from the Yap island of Ifalik, said his island's crate was filled with toys for children, but you can't eat toys. "It's like we got one of everything ... but what we need most are more hooks and line," he said.

Rector said yesterday that about $5,000 of the donated money from this year was spent on fishing supplies. Also, Rector said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Updegrade, an airman stationed at Andersen, started contacting U.S. mainland fishing clubs back in June to inform them about the Christmas Drop and gather donations.