I always love an excuse to visit our main post office, the James A. Farley branch in NYC. This is the only branch in the city that will hand cancel letters and invitations, so I frequent it often. Just running up the stairs to get inside, makes me feel like Rocky.
Photo: Via Wikipedia
The first thing I usually do, once inside, is look UP!
Then, I take a quick look at all the postal artifacts like this bike from the 1940’s.
Then, I admire the dozens of green banker’s lights at the marble writing tables.
But, what does this have to do with Santa, you ask? Well, on my way to hand cancel my letters, I saw THIS!
Operation Santa Claus?!?! What is that? Then I see THIS!
Santa’s Letters? How is it that me, a supporter of Snail Mail (aka Chiocciola Posta), does not know about Operation Santa Claus?
S0, I had a long conversation with the Head Elf at Operation Santa Claus and this is the story! You can imagine how many thousands of letters the post office gets addressed to Santa. (500,000 in NYC.) Mail without complete a address normally gets returned to sender with the message “Undeliverable as addressed”. But if those letters are addressed to Santa, they are not returned, for obvious reasons. So in that case, the letters would normally become……I almost can’t say it…….”Dead Mail.” You can imagine what happens in the Dead Mail bin. (Shudder.) Well, starting in the 1920’s, postal workers began answering the letters and sending presents to the children, so that they would receive a gift! Since then it has turned into a huge operation.
This is how it works. You show ID and fill out papers, so volunteers can verify that you are a good elf. Then you receive 10 letters from children to review. You can either select one or more from that pile, or ask over and over for 10 more until you find a letter that speaks to your heart. That letter has a code number. You register your number with a postal volunteer. Then you purchase something for that child and return to the post office to present what you will be shipping.Your gift gets boxed up and then you and your package go to the sales clerk where you pay for the shipping. The return address says Operation Santa plus the code number from the letter. The “to” area remains blank and is filled in by the post office for privacy reasons. Postal workers volunteer before or after regular shifts to pull off this operation. Here is a link that explains everything quite well.
I asked the Head Elf, “How do you know the neediest children are receiving the gifts?” His reply was that although volunteers try to determine children of need, Santa does not discriminate. Letters are screened for duplicates and fakes, which they can easily spot, but all children are treated alike. He said even the wealthiest children write to Santa. He also cautioned against assuming someone wasn’t deserving if they asked for a boat or Rolex, explaining that a child asking for expensive items might actually be someone in a homeless shelter in need of socks or a coat. There are post offices in 75 cities participating in Operation Santa Claus. From Cincinnati, Chicago, and D.C., to Austin, Naples and Savannah. You can find a list of post offices here. If your post office isn’t participating, you can also donate to the cause. Reading the actual letters is the best part of the entire experience, however. Some cities simply do not have necessary staff to successfully manage the operation. New York City has the largest program. Check the list and see if your city participates. Operation Santa Claus….here we come! We need to ship this week though in order for packages to arrive in time!