Teach.com has partnered with Operation: Social Santa to bring you a week-long series about giving back during the holidays and how teachers can organize toy drives, food donations, and service projects at their schools to teach students the importance of giving.
Operation: Social Santa was founded in 2010 as "Tweet Drive" and combines the power of social media with the efforts of volunteers to organize toy drives in communities across the country. Centered on the idea that "giving is the greatest gift one person can give during the Holidays," Operation: Social Santa has empowered communities to raise over 7,000 toys for underprivileged children to date.
We recently interviewed Harrison Kratz, founder of Operation: Social Santa. Read on to see what Harrison had to say about toy drives and what it means to give back during the holidays!
TEACH: Tell us a little bit about Operation: Social Santa. How did it start? How have you grown since you began, and where do you see Operation: Social Santa going?
I think during the holidays, our efforts produce so much more than material objects. Even if those efforts result in something as simple as a toy, we have the ability to provide joy and a sense of warmth when needed most. Giving is the greatest gift during the holidays, and it’s an experience and responsibility we can all partake in.
Harrison Kratz: I actually ran my first toy drive for a local homeless shelter outside of Philly in 2009, but going into 2010 I wanted to do something much bigger. I was doing a lot of work around social media and saw it as an opportunity to get the word out and build something potentially on a national scale. In that first year, with only six weeks of planning, we were able to organize toy drives in 24 cities and collect about 2,000 toys. In 2011, we were able to really grow in terms of national partnerships, cities, and toys, and were able to organize toy drives in 38 cities and collect over 4,200 toys.
This year has been a huge year for us so far in terms of partnerships. We’ve secured the support of some of the largest startups in the world and generated more online buzz than ever. We’ve collected about 1,000 toys in our first week-and-a-half, and we’re well on our way to eclipsing last year’s mark. I don’t know what the future holds for O:SS, but I do know it will continue for some time to come.
TEACH: Do you think schools are a good place for children to get excited about giving back?
HK: Absolutely. My elementary school was the first place that I had the opportunity to give back. We would run food drives, coat drives, and even go to retirement homes to sing Christmas Carols. Each of these experiences stayed with me and has lead to a toy drive where I’m able to give back to kids all over the world. With that in mind, I think schools have a responsibility to teach their students the importance and value of giving back. That lesson has the potential to last a lifetime.
TEACH: Part of what makes you guys great is your face-to-face interaction with the people you’re helping. How important is that to the whole giving experience? For school toy drives, it's sometimes harder for students to have that interaction. Are there ways teachers can ensure students see the impact they're making?
HK: It’s extremely important to see the effects – those are the moments that keep a cause going and motivate people to do even more. That said, it’s important to know that even if you can’t see the people you are helping, that doesn’t mean you aren’t making an impact on their lives. There’s a balance that must be struck, but seeing the effects firsthand is always a big component to a charity effort sustaining.
There are several ways teachers can show students the impact they’re making – they can organize visits to retirement homes or homeless shelters. Those trips always stuck with me because I could see the happiness I created. Another way is to do something where students can video chat with some of the organizations they help. With all the communication tools we have today in the classroom, there are endless ways to show kids the impact they can have.
TEACH: Are there any particular stories that stand out when thinking back on all the children you’ve helped?
HK: I could go on for hours here, but I’m going to talk about a story from this year. Just this past week, I learned about an incredible young man, Benjamin Wallace. Benjamin is 7 years old, blind, and battling a rare, undiagnosed blood disease – the same one that took his brother, Zachary’s life in 2005. After learning this, I drove to Philadelphia the next day (after our toy drive event in Baltimore) to meet Benjamin and deliver some toys. I know that these toys do very little in the grand scheme of things, but after seeing his smile when he opened his presents, I knew we were making a difference.
I don’t know how yet, but I plan on extending these efforts to help Benjamin, his family, and the foundation named after his brother, the Zachary Wallace Fund. For me, this shows that a lot can come from a simple thing such as happiness – no matter how fleeting it is. I hope I’ll be able to do more for them, and any help you can provide would be amazing.
Ultimately, we all can do a little bit to help others, and it starts at an early age. My teachers had a huge influence on my desire to give back, and I hope they understand that because of the opportunities they gave me, thousands of kids like Benjamin now have something to smile about on Christmas morning.
When he’s not playing Santa Claus, Harrison is the community manager for MBA@UNC, the top online MBA program at the University of North Carolina. Away from the computer, Harrison switches his focus to great food, watching any sport that’s on TV, all things Disney, and traveling. You can find Harrison on Twitter @KratzPR.
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