NEW YORK—Santa made an early trip to the Big Apple on Dec. 2 to join post office officials, first grade students from Manhattan’s P.S 19, and the choir from Preston High School in the lobby of the Main Post Office on 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue, to launch Operation Santa Claus.
Each year, letters written by children and adults to Santa Claus are made available at the New York Main Post Office to members of the public who are willing to give the gifts in Santa's name. Many letters are written by underprivileged children and families who, for economic reasons, face a bleak Christmas.
New York’s Operation Santa Claus is the largest of its type in the country, receiving approximately 500,000 letters ever year.
Gary Smiley, a Rescue paramedic from the New York Fire Department has been organizing a group from work and from his family to answer letters for 18 years now. He says he can go through as many as 1,000 letters, choosing 13 or 14 of the ones that “rip at your heart.” They dress up as Santa and his crew, decorate a borrowed ambulance and deliver the gifts in person.
“In the last few years we’ve noticed kids are asking for more material stuff, not toys, like socks, coats, warm outfits. They’ll say things like ‘Dear Santa, I’m OK, but I’d like you to give my sister a warm outfit, or my mother’s been working hard and can’t afford…’ Smiley explains. “It really breaks your heart to read them, I’m usually in tears by the time I’m finished.”
Operation Santa Claus began in the New York Post Office nearly 100 years ago. Postal clerks dug into their own pockets to answer Santa’s mail, purchasing food and toys for children who faced the unhappiness of an empty stocking. Through the years the number of letters increased and the program was opened to the public.
One letter written to Santa this year by eight-year-old Edgar from the Bronx shows the situation some families in New York are facing this Christmas. “… Last year I waited for you and you never showed up. My dad is working but he doesn’t make enough money to buy us things… My house is very cold and I have to wear two sweaters to go to bed. I’m please asking you to send me and my brother coats, clothes and shoes so I can go to school during the winter,” said Edgar in his letter.
Throughout the years, generous New Yorkers and other volunteers have used Operation Santa Claus to answer the “Dear Santa” letters from hundreds of thousands of children and their families.
So far this year, Santa has received approximately 100,000 letters, and the post office is expecting its average of 500,000 to continue to poor in, leading up to Christmas Eve.
“I’ve received thousands of letters already, and I’m asking for the publics help to answer them all,” said a slightly camera shy Santa to a throng of New York press and cameras.
Reporters asked Santa if he thought the recession would have an effect on how many of the letters would be answered this year. Santa apparently has faith in the human spirit.
“Oh they’ll still give. People will give,” said Santa.
Open hours for Operation Santa Claus 2008 are December 2nd through December 24th, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, excluding Thursdays, when they are open until 7:00 p.m.
Letters are limited to 10 per person and have to be collected in person, showing photo I.D. Charities, businesses, corporations, schools, and certain other groups can adopt an unlimited amount of letters, and should call 1-212-330-3000 to get more information.