- Bicycles for the family
- A skateboard
- Dress-up clothes
- A winter jacket
No matter the wish, CATA works hard every year to make it happen through the Operation Santa program. Over the years, the program has allowed CATA to team up with a local elementary school and provide Christmas gifts to hundreds of families in need.
“I love being able to give back to our community in such a special way,” says Pam Latka, CATA Marketing Manager. “I also love what it does for our employees. It gives everyone a chance to meet people within the organization, and involve their families in their community. It’s a good thing for us to do.”
Pam facilitates the Operation Santa program within CATA in creative ways, including a year-long can drive that raises hundreds of dollars. Every November, she distributes over 100 gift wish tags to three Christmas trees within CATA facilities. Employees take as many tags as they are able, and purchase gifts for local families.
Presents are sorted and delivered to the elementary school, along with Scotch tape, bows and wrapping paper. “We give them to the parents so they can wrap the gifts and give them to their children on Christmas,” says Pam.
Operation Santa has a special way of unifying employees toward a greater goal. A team of three maintenance workers adopted an entire tree full of wishes. Matt Oudsema, CATA’s Director of Planning and Development, has made it a family tradition to deliver the gifts with his wife and daughter.
CATA has taken part in Operation Santa for the last 18 years, adopting 37 children in 2019, and 892 since the launch of the program in 2002. Employees have gifted everything from homemade teddy bears and crocheted blankets to bikes, remote control cars and train sets.
“We often receive thank you notes from some of the kids or their family members,” Pam says. “Sometimes they will be addressed to Santa, so it’s fun to think that we are keeping these kids' Christmas dreams alive.”
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That’s the question buzzing from our paratransit department lately.
“What if the holiday spirit extended all year?” asked Paratransit Supervisor Craig Frazier in a department email. “If all the rules, boundaries and constraints were gone, what could we do to make our service better?”
Some of CATA’s paratransit riders rely on our Spec-Tran service to take them to the Greater Lansing Food Bank. Each month, the food bank chooses a Saturday and a new location to launch a pop-up event.
“This often creates issues with our Saturday Spec-Tran service,” Craig said, “as the clients can’t always give us an exact return time.” He said for some clients, the food bank may provide a majority of their monthly groceries.
Thus, the paratransit department asked the key question: What if?
What if we provided a special food bank shuttle for all participating Spec-Tran clients?
They answered this question last month, when they launched a six-hour bus run to the South Church of the Nazarene, November’s mobile food bank location. On a chilly, 20 degree day, volunteers of all ages set up food while our Spec-Tran picked up clients.
The Spec-Tran then drove these same clients home as they finished up at the food bank. They shuttled passengers in waves that accommodated their needs.
“This is just one example of what can be done to make a great service even better,” said Craig. The department is continuing to generate new ideas to enhance services.
What if all the rules and constraints were gone -- what could you do to help those around you?
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