The concept of fulfilling the wishes of poor children who write to Santa Claus is a century-old initiative first started by postal workers who were moved by such letters. In the 1940s, the post office began making such letters available to the public, and eventually “Operation Santa” was born.

New York was the first, but programs exist in NJ, Washington, Dallas and other cities. New York alone gets around 500,000 letters each year.

One year, my mom and I decided to participate. We made the trek to the 33rd Street Farley Post Office on the West Side, and sat on the floor reading letters. Some were goofy, with kids asking for cars and video games. Some made us cry, with children asking for a warm coat for a sibling, or shoes, or a job for a parent. You take as many letters as you can, purchase goods and then mail them to the family on your own.

This week, the program was suspended when a registered sex offender was spotted taking one of the letters. Apparently the guy meant no harm, but – when the program came back days later – it was materially changed.sad_tree.jpg

From now on, personal information on all the letters will be masked and you will have to return to the post office and give your package to a post office employee, who will then address and send your gift to the child whose letter you chose.

I predict that this will suppress participation, as some of the warmth of the process is drained away, and it’s going to put a horrendous level of stress and responsibility on the Post Office at the busiest time of year. Philadelphia mysteriously ended its program yesterday, saying its decision to halt the initiative 4 days earlier than planned had nothing to do with the breach. Unless they ran out of needy families, I doubt that.

As I said, folks, I got nothin’ on this one. No pithy observations. This is just bad bad bad at a time when the poor need more help than ever. I’m really sad about this.

Give to a foodbank, or go to a homeless shelter and offer gifts for children. Donate supplies to schools that cannot afford them. Resolve in 2009 to work with NY Cares or other organization to “adopt” a child in a school in need. Children do not deserve to suffer at this or any other time of year.

Operation Santa

 

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