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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
Southern California

Santa's Got Some Extra Helpers This Season

Operation Santa volunteers are helping to make Christmas special for L.A. children.

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Santa Clause is not set to arrive in Los Angeles for another three weeks (check out Google’s interactive countdown here), but that has not stopped millions of little children from writing letter’s to him. Their letters are filled with hopes, dreams and requests for the coolest new toys.

But Santa, being the one-man-magical-band that he is, does not exactly have a lot of downtime going into the busiest night of the year. It is no wonder why back in 1912, he teamed up with the USPS and civilian volunteers to write back to some of the children who write to him each year.

Operation Santa officially kicked off on Tuesday morning at the USPS Facility Headquarters in Los Angeles with a ceremonial ribbon cutting ceremony and a slew of volunteers came to pick out letters.

The letters come from underprivileged children in the Los Angeles area who often request Christmas presents for themselves as well as for their siblings and families.

Patrick Reynolds has been volunteering with Operation Santa for the past 11 years and even started the website to help bring more awareness to the program.

“I read the letters from children to Santa Claus asking for food or clothes or new shoes for an older brother. Oh boy — these letters are heart wrenching and they're coming from poor kids,” Reynolds said.

The letters come in to the Post Office addressed to Santa and are opened, read and assigned a number so as to keep the children’s identities private. Then volunteers are given the opportunity to read through the letters to ‘adopt’ a child or a family, for whom they buy some of the presents they have asked for. 

The Postal Service collects the responses and presents from Santa on the week leading up to Christmas so that they can be delivered in time to be opened on Christmas morning.

There have been accounts of people abusing the generosity of Operation Santa, like in New York when three postal workers were arrested for posing as children. But for the most part the goodwill of individuals goes to children who would not have otherwise had a very fulfilling Christmas.

“I think everyone deserves to have a happy Christmas regardless of if they have money or not.  I think it’s important to give back when you can,” said Monique Santos, an Operation Santa volunteer who has been ‘adopting’ children for a few years now. 

Operation Santa will run until December 22 in Los Angeles (with letter adoption ending on December 17). 

Reynolds said, “You just have to read through the letters until you find one that moves you enough to send gifts and make [a child] smile on Christmas morning.”

Click here to see an interactive map of this story.

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