Next Doors: ‘Tis Better to Give

Max Sirstins is the “grandfather” of something celebrating its 23rd year this holiday season.

His day job is director of advertising for Sanderson Ford and Sanderson Lincoln, one of the Valley’s most prominent automobile dealership companies. But he’s also the founder and “grandfather” of a holiday tradition in the Valley called Operation Santa Claus.

It started when Sirstins was working in the radio industry and decided to use his platform to start a holiday giving drive. That first year, Sirstins’ efforts helped raise $68,000 for St. Mary’s Food Bank and the Child Crisis Center in Glendale. Sirstins made a career change in 2000, joining the Sanderson team. But he didn’t want to leave the momentum from Operation Santa Claus behind. 

“When I came here, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just team up with a partner,’ and ABC15 is our main partner here,” he said. “It’s their main holiday event and they’ve been with us for all 22 years — so it’s actually Operation Santa Claus Presented by ABC15.”

The annual partnership between ABC15 Arizona and Sanderson Ford have been going strong for 23 years, collecting food, toys, children’s clothes and donations for Arizona charities at drop-off locations around the Valley. For donors, there’s a bit of an incentive as well. 

Donors who contribute $5 or more are entered into a drawing to be one of 15 finalists to win a new vehicle. Sanderson Ford and Lincoln will randomly select one donor to win a new Ford F-150 crew truck or Lincoln Corsair, and all 15 finalists will receive a $100 Visa gift card.

One hundred percent of the contributions stay in Arizona, this year benefiting five local charities: St. Mary’s Food Bank, Chicanos Por La Causa, Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center, Military Assistance Mission and Special Olympics Arizona. 

Anita Helt, vice president and general manager of ABC15, said the campaign is an integral part of the company’s culture. 

“Operation Santa Claus checks every box of our station’s core values,” she said. “Our team looks forward to Operation Santa Claus all year. It is a true station initiative in which every member of the ABC15 team is involved with the project in some way. I can’t think of a better way to build your team than getting out into the community and helping our neighbors in need.”

Operation Santa Claus includes a number of events leading up to the car giveaway that also help fund and secure donations for the charities involved. For instance, new this year is “Stuff the Sleigh” on Nov. 18, when volunteers will collect donations at all Valley Walmart stores from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. A full listing of events can be found at

The impact of Operation Santa Claus is substantial — it’s one of Arizona’s largest holiday charitable drives. Sirstins said it had started to hit the million-dollar mark before the pandemic slowed contributions for a couple of years, but in 2022, the campaign hit $1 million once again.

Helt said that in the past 22 years, Operation Santa Claus has helped provide more than 1.7 million meals for hungry families in Arizona and more than 1 million toys for Arizona children and families.

“You can’t put a dollar amount on the awareness raised for the nonprofits and the additional volunteers they received because of it,” Helt said.

Plus, Sirstins said the campaign is a great way to get into the holiday spirit.

“There’s a great deal of need in our community, and it seems like the need gets bigger every year,” he said. “Who doesn’t want to help a kid at Christmastime and see how you can make families and their kids happy?”

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About Tom Evans

Tom Evans is Contributing Editor of Frontdoors Media and the Senior Vice President at Lumen Strategies
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