|[Image courtesy of operationsanta.com]|
The US Postal Service has been receiving letters addressed to Santa Claus for over 100 years. In 1912 Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock began allowing employees and the public to respond to the letters. The program became known as "Operation Santa" (and "Letters to Santa"). Cities across the country participate by working with individuals, charities, schools, and businesses to respond to and/or fulfill the wishes included in the letters.
I just learned about the program this year through the Chicago Tribune and was compelled to help. After checking out the website Operation Santa Claus, I got the scoop on how it works. First find out if your local post office is participating (click here). If it is then go there, pick a letter to "adopt" (the max is 10 per person), then either respond to and/or purchase the items asked for. You can wrap the presents if you like, then put it in a box to ship. Take it back to the post office, pay for the shipping, and the letters or box(es) are delivered. If your local post office does not participate, you can still help by donating online.
Any personal information like last name, mailing address, or phone number on the letter is blacked out to protect the writer's identity. The letters are marked with an ID number so the post office can match the number to their records and where to send the packages.
At the main post office in Chicago located at 433 W. Harrison St., the letters that come in are photocopied, personal identity information blacked out, and organized into categories by boy or girl, English or Spanish, and number of children in the writer's family. This particular office is open Monday through Saturday from 8am to 8pm, and Sundays from 8am to 4pm. Operation Santa is set up on the second floor with friendly helpers, information about the program, holiday decorations, boxes of letters categorized, and a few tables where people can sit with a stack of letters to read.
Some letters were written by kids, some by moms, and some by grandmothers. The stories that these people told were absolutely heart-breaking. Some children wanted Santa to help their single mom and siblings have a few presents under the tree this year. Many moms wrote saying they had recently lost their job, that times had become rough, how it is difficult paying bills, and would be so thankful if they could give their children winter coats, or just a couple of presents. I also read letters from grandmothers who were struggling to give their grandchildren Christmas gifts. Some said they just want to put smiles on their grandchildren's faces and make them happy. Someone even wrote that it would be nice to receive some food.
Reading the letters was overwhelming. It really made me think about my own life and how I had never known what it was like to wake up Christmas morning with no presents to open, maybe no breakfast. It made me feel really lucky to have the life I do. I cannot even imagine how difficult it is for so many people. They are struggling to put food on the table and dress their children in warm clothes. I'm glad this winter has not been terribly cold.
It was pretty hard deciding who I was going to help. The post office estimates one million letters are mailed to Santa each year. I'm pretty sure that a lot of the letters won't be answered, that there are just too many people in need. The first letter I "adopted" was written by a mom with six kids who had recently lost her job. She didn't ask for anything specific. It sounded like her children would be happy to get anything this year. The other letter I picked was written by a grandmother with three grandkids of whom she is the sole caretaker. She said they needed winter coats, gloves, scarves, boots, and some clothing. As a side note, she wrote "if you can a few toys please, whatever you can do would be greatly appreciated from the heart."
Today I'm asking that you help however you can. If you can adopt a letter and help one family this year, please do. If you cannot spend much, how about making a small donation to Operation Santa? If you yourself is struggling, then at the very least you can tell others about this amazing program so that they may use their resources to help others.