In 1912, Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock noticed hundreds of thousands of letters addressed to one person: Santa Claus. Local postmasters weren’t sure what to do with the “North Pole” letters, so Hitchcock authorized them to develop a program where volunteers could respond to the letters.
According to USPS Manager of Corporate Communications Augustine Ruiz, the Oakland Post Office has been hosting the “Letters to Santa” program for about 30 years. The letters are neatly organized, alphabetized by city, so Antioch residents can dig through the “A” bin and Berkeley residents can look through “B” for letters from their city’s kids. Cupertino residents could also find their community in the big room in Oakland.
The Oakland program starts planning after Thanksgiving and kicks off in the first week of December. Volunteers must physically come into the office in order to help, and large items, like furniture, are often donated by businesses or charitable organizations.
When a volunteer comes into the office, they select a letter from the alphabetized bins and give their name, address and photo ID before receiving a copy to take home. After shopping for the items, they bring back a wrapped package, complete with postage, and post office employees send it to the original address.
The letters are also sorted by need. Some ask for toys, while others simply want to say hello to Santa — and they often get a response from the man himself, postmarked with a stamp from Anchorage, Alaska.
Then there are the letters that stand out. Children who ask for basic necessities: clothes, a blanket, warm place to sleep. Some are even from parents.
“Some are from single mothers, hoping just by a miracle someone might come across these letters,” Ruiz said.
And sometimes, the last resort works.
“Every year there’s one that always touches you,” Ruiz said. “Usually a child who doesn’t want anything, who just needs a bed to sleep on.”
Local companies sometimes go out and shop for the bed, hand delivering it to the post office so they can send it to the family in need.
Some letters cannot be answered and some wishes cannot be fulfilled, like a child asking for a parent to come home.
“There’s not much you can do,” Ruiz said.
USPS is involved with other charitable activities as well, holding a national “Stamp Out Hunger” food drive in May, where they collect food across the country with Second Harvest Food Bank. But as for seasonal events, this is one of a kind.
If he could change anything about the program, Ruiz would want to see more volunteers, more people coming in to pick out a letter and give back to their community.
How people can help:
Volunteers can go to the Oakland Main Post Office Mon. through Fri. until Dec. 18 to pick out letters.