The cellophane crackled as "Operation Santa Claus" mobilized in the rear office of a building on Hill Avenue in Pasadena.
Armed with 157 pounds of Mrs. Fields Cookies, clothes varying from Levi's to velveteen party dresses to pajamas with feet, and toys including model race cars, Tinker Toys and blocks, about a dozen American Cancer Society volunteers had an extended wrap session through last week.
Their goal: to provide some Christmas cheer to needy families whose children or parents have cancer.
"In low-income families, Christmas is a difficult time anyway, but it's especially hard with cancer," said Marty Robers, a director in the society's San Gabriel/Pomona Valleys branch, which has sponsored the project for four years.
The San Marino Toy and Book Shoppe contributed almost $500 worth of pop-up books, coloring books and other children's books. The Jolly Bagel in Diamond Bar kicked in 70 dozen cookies. Mrs. See's provided candy, and The Broadway, Sears and Susie's Deals each donated about four cases of clothing.
Volunteers have been working feverishly to stuff all the edible goodies into cellophane-and-ribbon-decked gift baskets to distribute to 50 families.
"We really tore that office apart getting all that stuff ready," said Agnes Boghosian, co-chairwoman of "Operation Santa Claus."
Volunteers studied profiles of each family, then selected appropriate gifts for each man, woman, child and teen-ager.
"I would think to myself, 'When I was 17, I would have liked this, or this,' " said volunteer Betty Jandegian. "That was fun."
The program's co-chairwomen, Boghosian and Millie Sargisoff, have been preparing for Christmas since late summer by soliciting donations of clothing, toys, wrapping materials and food. Staffers obtained Christmas wish lists from intended recipients.
The Christmas effort is just a part of the help the society gave this year to low-income families affected by cancer. The office's staff of about 30 volunteers has provided free transportation, home equipment and counseling, as well.
Michael Montes, 13, diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma last year, received transportation to and from his monthly chemotherapy and radiation treatments. His mother, Barbara Montes, a single parent with two other sons and a daughter, said the Christmas program comes as an appreciated bonus.
"Without 'Operation Santa,' Christmas would be tough," said Montes, who lives with her family in Azusa. "I can't get the kids much myself."
Volunteers, including students from La Salle High School in Pasadena, already have delivered some of the gifts, stuffed into 50-gallon plastic bags meant to resemble Santa's sack.
"The families just beam at what we have for them in our trash bags loaded with all kinds of goodies," Boghosian said.
Any leftover gifts will be given to pediatric patients at Duarte's City of Hope and Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.