Holiday challenge to veterans provides gifts for children

Operation Blessing holiday giveaway held Saturday in Shiprock

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

SHIPROCK — The children gathered inside the Shiprock Youth Complex here on Saturday could not contain their excitement while waiting for the distribution of hundreds of gifts donated by veterans and community groups.

Caroline Yazzie traveled from Two Grey Hills with three of her four grandchildren, who she has been caring for since her daughter, Tamra Janelle Yazzie, died in January 2011.

Yazzie said the event was a blessing because she and her husband cannot afford Christmas gifts for their grandchildren, who range in age from 8 to 15. Fighting back tears, Yazzie said she apologized to her oldest grandson for not providing gifts this year.

Mae Benally waits to open her gift during the Operation Blessing event on Saturday at the Shiprock Youth Complex.

"He said, 'Grandma, it's OK. You guys do a lot for us, raising us,'" she said.

As Yazzie watched her grandchildren unwrap their presents — a science kit, a truck and a robotics kit — she expressed her gratitude for Saturday's gift giveaway.

"They're happy with it. They're happy with one gift," Yazzie said.

Delivering that happiness and offering support to families facing difficulties this holiday season were reasons Robert Tso, pastor for the Victory Life Church in Shiprock, asked veterans to donate toys for the event, dubbed Operation Blessing.

Boys line up on Saturday to receive gifts donated to Operation Blessing by veterans and community groups.

Tso issued the challenge during a meeting of the Shiprock Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9517 on Dec. 4.

"I made the announcement, challenging the veterans to give back to the children in the community, and I didn't know how they would respond," Tso said in a Dec. 21 interview.

Little did the pastor know the response would result in the receipt of more than 400 toys and include donations from various veterans organizations, the Farmington Police Department, the Marines Toys for Tots Program and community members.

Shiprock Chapter Veterans Organization member Tommy Yazzie, left, helps distribute Christmas gifts on Saturday at the Shiprock Youth Complex.

Church members spent last week wrapping each gift and categorizing them by age group.

"Are you ready, children?" Tso said Saturday as the event got underway.

"Yeah!" the children shouted.

Shiprock Chapter Veterans Organization Commander Lloyd Begaye said the event also provided time for families to come together to celebrate Christmas.

Navajo Nation Vice President-elect Myron Lizer and his wife, Dottie Lizer, recognized the effort by the veterans to brighten the holiday.

Chase Duncan, 4, watches a video while waiting for the gift distribution to start on Saturday at the Shiprock Youth Complex.

"You're going to see what a cheerful giver gives," Myron Lizer said.

After reviewing the stacks of gifts, Dottie Lizer said it was good to see the children blessed by the spirit of the season.

"We look forward to seeing the smiles on the kids' faces," she said.

Shiprock resident Andrea Begay listened to the program while her grandchildren patiently waited for the gift distribution.

"It's great, it's awesome. It's something nice for the whole community, especially the kids being here" Begay said.

Dylan Dasher, left, and Alexis Deja Peters, right, help sing a Christmas carol during Operation Blessing on Saturday at the Shiprock Youth Complex.

Her granddaughter, Brooke Duncan, was hoping for either an arts and crafts kit or a science kit.

"It is fun," the 10-year-old said.

While providing gifts to children was the primary goal, Tso said he hopes the event motivates veterans to continue helping their communities.

"This event will be like a show and tell, because in order for it to happen again, they have to catch it. You can teach someone, but they have to catch it to where they want to do it," Tso said.

Families wait for gifts to be distributed to children on Saturday at the Shiprock Youth Complex.

Seeing that example of helping the community was a reason Shiprock resident Caroline Benally brought her two daughters, ages 2 and 6, to the event.

"I think it's a great opportunity. Their dad is a veteran so it's good to see them do something like this for the holiday," Benally said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at