December 16, 2005

Postal Service changes policy on letters to Santa

By José A. Álvarez

Until last year, families or individuals wishing to adopt needy children and families for the holidays could do it by going to their local post office and selecting a child or family from the hundreds of letters addressed to Santa Claus. They would then purchase a present or food and deliver it to the families in need.

Not any more.

Because of privacy reasons, now the United States Postal Service (USPS) only has the letters available at one post office in San Diego and is now longer providing people the addresses or contact information of the people writing the letters.

“For a while, we’ve been wondering whether it was appropriate to give out people’s private information,” said Mike Cannone, Communications Manager for the San Diego Postal District, of the USPS’ decision to no longer have the letters available at all post offices. “We decided to serve as an intermediary so that we wouldn’t destroy people’s privacy.”

The decision to change their policy, he said, is not because they’ve had any problems, but simply a prevention measure.

“This is the way society is moving and we would not want the wrong type of person coming in and getting a child’s letter,” Cannone added.

Families wishing to adopt needy children or families now have to go to the branch at 10060 Willow Creek Road, in San Diego. The letters addressed to Santa will be available for review beginning Monday, December 12.

There, they will find thousands of letters such as the one from Melissa Ochoa, who would like to receive some clothes for the holidays. The 13 year-old is asking for clothes for her and her 10 month old baby.

“I am writing this letter to tell you that I feel so sad because I have a baby and I am a single mother,” wrote Melissa, whose mother died and her father is in Mexico. “Santa I know you are so good with the kids and that you help so many people…”

Melissa has not been adopted yet, but will probably have plenty more opportunities if her story was chosen to be featured in “Dear Santa.”

In the show, Santa will make holiday dreams come true for those children whose letters have touched his heart. Based on the selection of the most compelling letters sent to the USPS, which receives millions of Santa Letters every year, the special will highlight their dramatic and heartwarming stories and fulfill their holiday dreams.

“When (Creator) Darren (Mann) approached us about working with the U.S. Postal Service on a holiday reality special, we jumped at the opportunity,” said in a news release Kevin Beggs, President for Programming and Production for Lions Gate Television, which is producing the special. “The concept has tremendous evergreen potential…and we are excited to be part of what could become a new holiday entertainment tradition.”

Sixteen year-old Mayra Pineda and her two sisters hope to be a part of that tradition as her letter was also included in the five from San Diego to be considered by the television special.

If her wishes come true, Mayra and her sisters, Leslie, 6, and Nayely, 5, will get what they are asking for.

“Lately, my mom has been sick and she has not worked enough to buy us what we want…We live in our 3 uncles house because we cannot pay an apartment just for us…We need food, clothes, and shoes,” wrote Pineda, who in her letter includes the shoe and clothes sizes for her and her sisters. “So please Santa, help us out so this Christmas can be the happiest Christmas that we have had in years.”

Mayra and Melissa are still waiting to be adopted, and should they lucky, post office employees will be more than happy to deliver their presents.

“We’ll make sure that the families get them,” said Cannone, adding that in San Diego, the postal service receives about 5,000 Santa Letters every year.

Some children, like Adriana Baza, from San Diego, have been lucky. Adriana’s family has been adopted and will probably receive some gifts for the holidays. Like a typical 11-year old, Baza is asking for a “small present” for herself and her three younger siblings.

“Our parents don’t have that much money to buy us presents,” Adriana wrote to Santa Claus. “We have been good this year. We have helped our parents in everything we could. All four of us got good report cards. My dad and mom wanted to reward us, but my parents don’t have enough money.” she added.

Those who are not so lucky will at least receive a letter from Santa, acknowledging that He received their wishes and a personalized message from Santa’s helpers, some post office employees.

“We have preprinted messages… where we tell them that we hope they are being good and that their wishes come true,” said Cannone.

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