Skull and Mortar, a service organization run by students in USC’s School of Pharmacy, kicked off their annual Operation Santa on Friday.
Aimed at the pediatric patients of the LAC + USC Medical Center, the group hopes to provide holiday cheer by writing holiday letters and collecting gifts to send to hospitalized children.
Pre-pandemic, Skull and Mortar (SAM) members donated and delivered toys for the toy drive and held fun-filled, in-person hospital visits for kids in need. Since 2020, though, the group has had to limit in-person contact with children and restricts the number of volunteers to only one — someone who can deliver the toys.
“It was kind of heartbreaking in a way because although we were able to collect so many toys for them, we weren’t able to be there physically with them,” Natty Sutthirat, the coordinator of last year’s Operation Santa explained. “I feel like our main mission with this event is to make them feel like they’re not alone during this holiday season. So that [was] the only thing that was very difficult for us to see.”
In an effort to get the USC community more involved this year, SAM expanded Operation Santa’s mission to include writing letters to hospitalized children in addition to collecting toys to be donated to the LAC + USC.
“I love being able to see the community come together and donate…to help these kids who really could use a little joy in their life,” Fiona Goh, the president of SAM, said.
The group plans on delivering all the collected gifts to the children at the LAC + USC Hospital on December 15.
“I hope that we can let them know that we are supporting them from afar and bringing the holiday spirit into their hospital room,” Goh said.
Founded in 1930, SAM is one of the oldest service organizations at the USC School of Pharmacy. The group aims to serve the “geriatric, pediatric and underserved communities of Los Angeles,” according to their website.
Reflecting on the organization’s mission and how it relates to Operation Santa, Goh said that the club hopes their efforts will bring some hope to the children whose holiday season might look different this year.
“[The idea behind this initiative] was to bring some joy and some smiles and holiday spirit to these kids who are battling all kinds of sickness,” she said. “We just want to be that light for them and hopefully bring some joy to their day with these toys.”
Sutthirat hopes that in addition to bringing some much-needed support to vulnerable children, members of the USC community can come together and make an impact.
“Operation Santa is not just focused on the people that we’re donating the toys to, but it’s also targeting the entire community to be involved,” Sutthirat said. “It makes a big impact [because] our community really comes together in this holiday season to try to make a difference in others’ lives.”