Every year, thousands of children write to Santa Claus, mailing their missives through the U.S. Postal Service. The letters don’t, however, reach the jolly old man. Typically, local post office employees — resources allowing — gather them together and respond to the children in Santa’s name. Operation Santa, as it’s called, has been around since 1912, bringing delight to children across the country.
Originally confined to postal workers, in the 1940s letters to Santa became so prolific that the postal officials began outsourcing some of the letters to communities, charities and individuals. These private individuals would provide a written response to the children’s letters and sometimes send them a gift off of their wish list as well.
Today, when letters to Santa come to the post office, they are sorted into categories like “Needy Kids,” “Needy Moms” and “Wish Lists.” Sometimes the letters to Santa are heartbreaking: children asking for coats, new shoes, even food. Post office employees set aside the letters from the neediest moms and kids in the Operation Santa room to allow individuals to read and respond privately. The nonprofit Be An Elf is one organization that connects supporters with such authors’ letters.
Being an Elf is simple. You check the nearest location of Operation Santa and, after showing identification, go to a sorting room. You get to read through the letters and choose one or many that speak to your heart. Volunteers buy presents or sometimes gift cards and return them to the post office where the letter was received. The post office then delivers them to the children, often in the name of Santa Claus. To protect the privacy of the children, only post office officials deliver the gifts.
This year, the U.S. Postal Service has set up Operation Santa stations in 15 cities around the nation. If you’d like to participate in this wonderful charitable endeavor, make sure you look up times for picking up letters and dropping off presents; they are tightly scheduled and each branch is different.
Be An Elf brings children’s Christmas wishes to life and allows children to experience the magic of the holiday season. They are the often anonymous giving hands that make all the difference to an underprivileged child.
Want to be an elf this year? In some cities there’s still time! Check this page to see your community’s status. No Operation Santa programs in your area? Be An Elf gives some helpful tips on other ways to give, and how to continue to spread the Christmas spirit.
Want to see some actual letters from children? Click here.