Operation Santa, the U.S. Postal Service's letters to Santa program, kicks off its 100th year with fanfare at New York's Farley Post Office in Manhattan, N.Y.(Photo: By Jennifer S. Altman for USA TODAY)
NEW YORK -- The "Dear Santa" letters piled high in the back offices of
New York's main post office are just as cute and misspelled as ever,
but their scribbles and drawings tell heart-wrenching stories of
children dealing with the hardships of unemployed parents and the
ravages of Superstorm Sandy.
"I know you must be very busy helping
a lot of people who has been misplaced by Hurricane Sandy," Paige
writes after asking about "Santa and Mrs. Santa's" health. "My mother
and I and my little brother had to leave our house in Queens. We are now
staying with my aunt in New York City. We still don't have electricity.
My mother is moving to South Carolina."
She asks Santa for a computer for herself and a Transformer for her brother.
"We wish you luck and a Merry Christmas," she wrote. "Please help us and all the families that was hurt by Hurricane Sandy."
the U.S. Postal Service begins the 100th year of the "Operation Santa"
letters program to connect the wishes of needy children with anonymous
donors willing to play secret Santa, Pete Fontana, chief of Elf
Operations, is so distressed he's stopped reading the letters.
Tuesday, Fontana and postal elves at about 25 post offices around the
country copy the letters, black out the identifying information such as
addresses and last names, and offer the letters to the public for
adoption. Nationwide, the Postal Service expects to receive more than 1
million Dear Santa letters, though they won't all be from needy
People who want to adopt a letter and fill a wish list
can visit a participating post office, fill out a form and select a
letter. (Participating post offices can be found at http://about.usps.com/corporate-social-responsibility/11-22-Letters-to-Santa-Locations.pdf.)
Donors drop off the gifts and the letter at the post office before
Christmas and pay the postage for delivery. Postal employees address the
gifts and deliver them.
Fontana urges the public to pick letters
that "touch your heart and fit your budget. By taking a letter, you
become an official elf."
"We're looking at probably the neediest
year I could ever imagine," says Fontana, who has run the program for
the New York post office, the biggest and oldest letters to Santa
operation, for 16 years.
Letters have come from people in shelters, he says.
"They are looking for basics like cleaning supplies, mops and brooms," Fontana says.
Cheryl wrote from a shelter where she is caring for her two grandsons.
am unable to give them the Christmas they deserve," she wrote. "Any
help I can receive in giving them a great holiday will be appreciated."
For those not hit by Sandy, the economy continues to take a toll, Fontana says.
Destinee, 7, asked for math books and pencils.
have been a good girl at school and at home. I will keep up the good
work so my mom can be happy," she wrote. "I hope you can get the thing I
like Santa. P.S. Cookies and milk will be waiting."
asks Santa for a cane and sneakers for his mother who recently had back
surgery, white undershirts for his brother and pajamas for his
"I've been a good boy this year and I was wondering
if you can please get me a coat for the winter," he writes. "I would
love it if you can make my wishes come true."
Even as the Postal
Service cuts back under staggering debt and billion-dollar losses,
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe says the program must continue to
"Letters to Santa is about making dreams come true.
Miracles are what a lot of people can use right now," Donahoe said
during the Operation Santa kickoff at New York's main post office.
has adopted letters for 20 years, since he worked at the post office in
Lancaster, Pa. The letters he adopted in Washington, D.C., he says were
"You'd go to people's houses and could see people
were really down and out," he says. "They were asking for food, winter
coats. You'd be surprised how many kids ask for a blanket."
Iris, 8, says her mother is unemployed and ill. She doesn't have a father.
believe in you and I don't ask you for fun or toys. I want some
clothing," she writes. "I want a book bag to go to school since my broke
and perfum...I love toys too but I really need a book bag for school
and if you have a toy like a doll that I can dress. Love you much. I
hope you don't forget me."