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Season's Givings: Operation Santa volunteers anonymously answer Santa's call

USPS Operation Santa - 1

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USPS Retail Specialist Phillip Chan gathers gifts that are ready to be mailed as part of Operation Santa on Thursday, Dec. 20. Letters addressed to Santa stay in the area where they were mailed. Volunteers can come in at any time to "adopt" letters, and return to the post office with a gift.

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Chadwick School fifth graders Geoff, left, and Matthew bring gifts from their 21-student class. The class decided together to adopt letters in the Operation Santa program.

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USPS Operations Analyst Marsha McFayden loads gifts for Southern California letter-writers. The national program began 100 years ago. Last year, more than 1,500 letters were adopted at the post office on South Central Avenue.

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Operation Santa Coordinator Cleofe Erguiza helps letter adopters with handfuls of gifts outside the post office on South Central Avenue. Erguiza begins work on the program in November, and gifts come in through January.

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Evelyne Bota, left, and Amanda Arslan of Redondo Beach unload a truck-full of gifts. Arslan came in to read letters, and ended up taking home 30. The two collaborated with their friends to fulfill all 30 letters.

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Donald Butler of Los Angeles holds two letters to Santa that he and his wife adopted. This is Butler's second year participating in Operation Santa.

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Kenny Bowman of USPS' Retail Mobile Unit puts postage on gifts for letter-writers. "It helps them still believe," said Bowman.

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Operation Santa Coordinator Cleofe Erguiza packages gifts for shipment. Large gifts like bicycles will be delivered to individual households on Friday, Dec. 21 by a USPS employee dressed as Santa Claus.

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Mail Handler Silvia Bueno stacks gifts before they are taken to the warehouse for distribution. All the Operation Santa gifts are shipped Priority, so that they arrive on time.

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Letter adopters pay postages for their gifts on Dec. 20. Children and parents ask for a range of gifts, from dolls and bicycles to diapers, or someone to pay their gas bill.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

USPS employees Cleofe Erguiza, left, and Silvia Bueno take gifts inside, where addresses will be attached to each package.

This post is part of KPCC's "Season's Givings" series, chronicling volunteer experiences  and opportunities during the holiday season. View a full listing of charitable organizations seeking help this season and let us know your holiday volunteer story!

WARNING: The following story contains Santa information that may not be suitable for Santa-expecting youngsters.

This year will mark the 100th anniversary volunteers and the Post Office's Operation Santa will be delivering gifts on Santa's behalf. The program has been in existence since 1912.

The idea is quite simple. Children and single mothers write to Santa Claus asking for Christmas present wishes or needs. The letter is routed to a local USPS branch where the Operation Santa Program is being conducted. The letters from Los Angeles were sorted at the PostMaster located on South Central Avenue, not all USPS branches participate.

From the PostMaster USPS, the letters can be adopted by any volunteer who fills out a simple form on-site. The letter is anonymous; the volunteer will not know the name or address of the letter-writer and they will not meet each other. The presents can range from diapers to dolls to clothes. 

"Some of the letters are pretty heartwrenching," says Tom Durry. Durry is a board member of the Los Angeles Postal Customer Council (PCC) and the director of his company's annual Operation Santa  efforts.   

"These kids are basically asking for simple neccessities," said Durry. "This one girl, I'm getting goosbumps when I read it, she said, if it woudn't be too much trouble, after the clothes and stuff, a doll for my younger sister would make a happy holidays for her."

Most of the children and mothers involved are not asking for your run-of-the-mill technical gadget or Toy-R-US' newest trending toy, says Durry said.

He said that the one of the most extraordinary cases happened last year. A little girl with a birth defect had said that all she wanted for Christmas was ears to wear earrings like her sisters and friends. "Some surgeons in Beverly Hills got wind of that and they were able to provide that for her," he said. 

Durry participates in the effort of Operation Santa which it is not directly tied to the U.S. Post Office. He plans to involve his family in the process next year. He says he takes pride in getting to go to the Post Office to pick up the letters and drop off presents.

"I'm the representative, the guy that gets to take the presents to the Postal Service," he says. "There are employees that don't even get to go and they are just gratified that they get to help a needy family."

Operation Santa is completely volunteer organized and run. "Everything and every penny that comes in, goes right back out, 100 percent," Durry said. 

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