US Postal Service celebrates 104 years of answering letters to Santa

Santa Claus treats young visitors to a sleigh ride at his North Pole Workshop in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State.
Santa Claus treats young visitors to a sleigh ride at his North Pole Workshop in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State.
Orlando/Getty Images

Operation Santa, the US Postal Service’s holiday charity program, is celebrating its 104th year of answering hopeful letters addressed to Santa Claus.

At a kickoff event at the US Postal Service’s Los Angeles District Office on Tuesday, volunteers sorted through letters from children and adults.

Some asked for video games, new televisions or Pokémon plush dolls. Others only asked for basic human needs.

"We were just blessed with our own apartment after being homeless for two years," wrote a woman named Tiffany. "We would love blankets to sleep on, because we [sic] no beds."

Some even decorated their letters as animals: 

Volunteers can visit US Postal Service branches in Los Angeles, Santa Clarita and Santa Ana to “adopt” a letter. Once a letter gets adopted, postal workers assign it a code number corresponding to the writer's address. After volunteers go shopping, they wrap their gifts and label them with the code number. Then, they turn it over to the post office without ever knowing the recipient’s address or other personal information.

“The postal service acts as the middleman,” said Richard Maher, a USPS spokesman. “How easy is that?”

Maher told KPCC that with the popularity of email and online shopping, he was surprised the postal service still receives thousands of handwritten letters addressed simply: Dear Santa Claus. More than 30,000 have been mailed already this year, Maher said.

“But many don’t have a return address,” he said. “So, we probably only adopt out 1200 letters every year.”

The rest, sadly, go unanswered, he said.

As privacy regulations tighten at the postal service, so do the guidelines of Operation Santa, Maher said. Five years ago, organizers of the project decided to remove full names and addresses from the letters to protect the personal information of the families writing to Santa Claus.

This year, for the first time, the postal service will begin keeping a database of all volunteers who donate items, Maher said.

Patrick Reynolds, a longtime Operation Santa volunteer told KPCC he used to knock on the doors of the letter writers and deliver gifts in person. But, he agreed the project’s changing privacy restrictions were for the best.

“The post office is extremely responsible,” he said. “A lot of people feel sad and alone during the holidays and [Operation Santa] fills people with the true Christmas spirit.”

His organization, Be an Elf, took on 23 letters already this year, he said. Since he noticed information about the Operation Santa project was hard to come by, he created an online guide to volunteering for the program.

Per the US Postal Service, volunteers in Southern California interested in adopting a letter to Santa can visit the participating post office branches on Dec. 6, 8, 13 and 15 between 11 a.m.-1 p.m. 

Here are the three local post office branches participating in Operation Santa: 

Los Angeles:

Los Angeles District Office
7001 S. Central Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90052

Santa Clarita:

Sierra Coastal District Office
28201 Franklin Pkwy. Gate 2
Santa Clarita CA 91383

Santa Ana:

Santa Ana District Office
3101 W. Sunflower Ave.
Santa Ana CA 92799