Operation Santa Project in Merrimack is a mother-daughter tradition

Shannon Gagnon remembers helping her mother with the Merrimack Lioness Club’s Operation Santa Project decades ago when she was just 3 or 4.

Now Gagnon is the club’s president, and her mother, Sandra McCann, is chairwoman of Operation Santa, which provides holiday gifts for struggling families and for residents of the local nursing home. McCann has been involved with the club for at least 30 years.

It’s particularly satisfying to bring the gifts to Rose Haven Home, Gagnon said, because the older residents often have no one to visit them or give them gifts.

The club has Christmas trees all over town – at the Merrimack Post Office, Merrimack Public Library, Total Chiropractic Health Center, Gold’s Gym at the Commons, Gold’s Gym on Amherst Street in Nashua, the Homestead Restaurant, Frank’s Place, Hot Rize, D.W. Diner and Hairthurium.

Here’s how it works: The welfare department gives the club a list of people in Merrimack who are in need of help. Club members type up a card for each client, and the cards are placed on the trees. Merrimack residents can pick a card and buy one or more items listed, and return the gifts unwrapped to the location where they got the card.

After the deadline, which is Saturday, Dec. 13, club members get together at Town Hall and prepare gift bags for each recipient.

Many people buy gifts, from individuals to families to businesses to Brownie troops and elementary school students, who take a card for their class, McCann said, and the Merrimack Fire Department has been a huge supporter, as has the Merrimack Lions Club, which gives the project $500 each year.

Faith Episcopal Church and Merrimack Middle School gifted and talented kids step up and help, she said.

Lioness Club members also prepare gift bags for nursing home residents for Easter and Valentine’s Day, and bring lunch to firefighters on Valentine’s Day.

“We could have joined the Lions Club,” McCann said, “but this is the kind of community service” the women – there are about a dozen members – prefer.

They also bake homemade pies – 102 this year – for Thanksgiving, with proceeds benefiting food pantries at St. John Neumann Church and St. James United Methodist Church.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@cabinet.com.