Virtual tree tally begins with hopes city will remember those less fortunate Whether the year has been good or bad, the hope of Operation Santa Claus is that Hong Kong will make good on its pledge to do good for the benefit of those less fortunate. Its virtual 'Christmas tree' goes up today, tracking the progress of the charity drive that will end at midnight on New Year's Eve. Ordinary folk, schools and companies have been doing their part - however big or small - for the sake of the 13 small charities that are dependent on Operation Santa Claus to realise their wishes of making life more bearable for people on the fringes of society in these uncertain times. Operation Santa Claus started solely as an RTHK campaign but it stopped after the Community Chest came into being in the late 1960s, said Bryan Curtis of RTHK, a volunteer master of ceremonies at many of the charity drive's events since 2002. It was relaunched in 1988 when RTHK Radio 3 teamed up with the South China Morning Post to coorganise the annual event. Each year they selected one charity, which invariably helped children. That all changed in 2003 when both media organisations decided that the more charities they could help, the better. For the past five years more than 80 charities have been helped and some HK$110 million raised. This year, with a global financial crisis hitting the local economy, the goal is modest but the hope is great. Mr Curtis said: '[Operation Santa Claus] is a real good example of east meets west. SCMP and RTHK Radio 3 are English media but we are giving money to the local community.' He did not think the financially challenged year would take the fun out of the campaign either because people just wanted to enjoy themselves during Christmas and donate however they could. C.K. Lau, editor of the Post, said: 'The South China Morning Post considers Operation Santa Claus a major exercise to engage its readers to contribute to the community. The partnership with RTHK has worked out very well to ensure this is a multimedia campaign that allows donors and beneficiaries to get the exposure they rightly deserve.' Schools are urged to hold one-dollar-per-student campaigns, while banking giants, hongs, property developers and investment banks encourage staff and clients to give more. Staples over most of the past five years have included the Wing Ding Squash fancy dress tournament, Discovery Mind Kindergarten charity walk and UBS Hong Kong Open golf tournament. Starbucks has also been helping Operation Santa Claus for four years and Sino Group is auctioning some calligraphy by Dominic Lam Man-kit. 'Some of our biggest donors are a band of people who raise money, like the five-a-side football,' Mr Curtis said. 'Last year they gave well over HK$1 million. 'I don't get paid. I donate an awful lot of my time. What's nice about Operation Santa Claus is RTHK and SCMP basically absorb 99 per cent of the administrative expenses.'