Charity drive gives 13 groups confidence in a difficult year This year will most likely be tough going for charities as companies and individuals further tighten their belts amid a deepening global recession. But the projects of 13 worthy groups can go on uninterrupted thanks to Operation Santa Claus. The month-long fund-raising campaign organised by the Post and RTHK officially ended yesterday with close to HK$9 million in hand, though the last event, a bingo night at the Lamma Island Bar and Restaurant, will be held on January 10. Individuals who still have something to give can continue to do so at Operation Santa Claus donation boxes in shopping malls, clubhouses, coffee shops, bars and restaurants across the city. A closing ceremony is set for January 20, when the total amount raised will be announced. Not only big companies donated time and money - 27 schools and universities, 44 smaller businesses and countless anonymous donors sent cheques or transferred money. Among the schools were Discovery Mind Kindergarten, whose charity walk netted HK$111,130; Hong Kong International School, which chipped in HK$43,545; Shung Tak Catholic English College, with HK$36,350; St Mark's School, with HK$41,000; Community College of City University, with HK$12,800; and German Swiss International School, with HK$10,000. Beneficiaries said they were grateful for this year's campaign. The Caritas-Hong Kong UNHCR Project sought the aid of Operation Santa Claus so it could help refugees who are not allowed to work for up to two years while waiting for resettlement. 'Although our clients are not Hong Kong ID holders, they are given temporary legal status to stay in Hong Kong. They will eventually be resettled to a third country, such as Canada or the US, that takes our refugees,' spokeswoman Betty Mok said. 'I understand that OSC donors are mostly Hong Kong taxpayers but I am convinced their kind hearts and love are not limited to Hong Kong residents. I believe they have a much wider vision in charity and support for humanitarian work.' The Samaritans late last week tried out their new 24-hour telephone system, made possible with the assistance of Operation Santa Claus, and it is fully operational from today for those needing a friendly ear. 'The volunteers have told us that it is very noise-reducing, the reception is very good and, because it is hands-free, they are more concentrated on the calls. Sometimes calls can take up to two hours,' the service's publicity manager, Serena Wong Sze-sze, said. Marking their 35th year of service in Hong Kong, The Samaritans' wish for the new year is: 'We wish everybody a happy heart and to help one another in this difficult time.' Alain Lau Sing-wah, martial arts instructor at another beneficiary of the campaign, the Grace Link Charity, said: 'When I started giving martial arts lessons at Grace Link, I only took it as a way to help the disabled people to do some basic physical exercises. But my thoughts changed dramatically as I saw my students make such big progress. 'I've realised that our role is simply to offer them an opportunity to discover their own energy. By taking the martial arts training, they feel they are no different from others.' Toby Wu Wong-ting, education officer for the Produce Green Foundation, which operates garden allotments for the elderly, said: 'Our garden might be small in size, yet it brings a big sense of achievement to elderly people. 'Many of them are used to bringing their children and grandchildren here during the weekend to enjoy family happiness together.' Lai Kit-ngor, superintendent of the Wan Wah Care and Attention Home for the Elderly, said: 'We are grateful for the help of Operation Santa Claus to provide a more patient-friendly and comfortable environment for patients to live in.' Katterwall director Bethan Greaves said: 'Isn't it a good way to celebrate Christmas by helping charities? We were really overwhelmed at seeing so many people come to our Christmas carolling night.'