United Methodist church women bearing wrapping paper, candy, cookies and bows recently descended upon a small building in south Oklahoma City like elves anxious to get to their North Pole workshop.

The “Santa Operation” had officially begun.

Methodist women from across the state wrapped gifts, filled jars with candy, stuffed stockings, created holiday cards and baked cookies — all to be delivered to individuals and families served by the Neighborhood Services Organization (NSO).

Stacey Ninness, the nonprofit’s president and chief executive director, said Neighborhood Services Organization was founded and operated by Oklahoma United Methodist Women for many years. Although the two entities are now separate, the women’s group has continued to help support the nonprofit, which is now a United Way agency, she said.

The annual Santa Operation, a half-day Christmas service project, provides the women with an opportunity to offer aid in a personal and fun way, Ninness added.

Many of them wrapped, stuffed and baked holiday items at the office, 431 SW 11, while others traveled to decorate the agency’s supportive living centers to provide a bit of Christmas cheer to the residents.

“Not only are we getting ready for Christmas festivities here, but we’re also connecting people to our mission,” Ninness said.

Nancy Koplowitz, a member of McFarlin United Methodist Church in Norman, baked chocolate chip cookies in the NSO kitchen so that other volunteers could fill gift boxes with the sweet treats.

“We come every year to help them get ready for Christmas,” she said. “It’s one of the things that we do as United Methodist Women because our aim is to to serve.”

Christmas at the door

Ninness and NSO communications director Amber Brooks said the Santa Operation brings Christmas literally to the doorsteps of individuals and families participating in the agency’s programs.

These include: Martha’s House, which provides temporary housing for homeless families; Gatewood, a transitional living program for single mothers who are pregnant or have a child five or younger; the Carolyn Williams Center which provides a temporary home for young men 18 and older who have aged out of the foster care system or living on the streets; and Palo Duro living centers for adults with mental illness.

In addition to the gifts, candy, cookies and stocking that were to be distributed at the agency’s annual Christmas party, some United Methodist Women members spread out into the community to add garland, ornaments and wreaths to decorate the living centers for the holidays.

Chris Massey, a member of Chapel Hill United Methodist, said she was part of a group that decorated at Palo Duro.

“We decorated the tree, and we put wreaths on the windows,” she said. “It was amazing. I don’t think you can do something like this without being touched.”

Glenda Gilpin, of Hooker Methodist Church in Hooker, will be the new president of Oklahoma United Methodist Women come Jan. 1.

During the recent Santa Operation activities, she sat with a group of women filling stockings for young men living in NSO’s Carolyn Williams Center with items like men’s cologne and shower gel, trail mix, socks, hand towels and hats and gloves.

She said many of the winter wear items were hand made by United Methodist Women while others items, such as children’s coloring books and toy cars for children’s stockings, were donated.

Gilpin said Neighborhood Services Organization was started in 1920 when a group of Oklahoma United Methodist Women decided to pass a hat around to gather funds for needy families in the community.

“It was women seeing the need and stepping up,” she said.

Not much has changed since then, she noted, as busy women all around her filled boxes with cookies, placed gifts in bags and made Christmas cards designed to bring holiday cheer to the recipient.

Santa Operation 2016 — mission accomplished.