Letter From Santa Program

Letter From Santa – Letters addressed to Santa await sorting at the James A. Farley Post Office Building in Manhattan, N.Y., on Monday.

The number of post offices participating in the Letters to Santa program has almost tripled. Operation Santa begins its 99th year today, and Pete Fontana, chief of Elf Operations at New York’s main post office, expects a record number of Santa letters from needy children as families continue to cope with a shaky economy.

Crystal Skipwith, with son Christian Brown, 2, plans to adopt a family through the Postal Service’s Letters to Santa program.

“I think this is going to be the neediest year ever because the economy has not improved,” Fontana said. “We’ve already seen a lot of really sad letters.”

Nearly 5,000 letters addressed to Santa Claus at the North Pole arrived at the New York post office on the day after Thanksgiving, Fontana said. He expects to receive 2 million letters this year, up from 1.8 million in 2010.

Los Angeles fielded 3,000 letters in 2010 and found Secret Santas for 300, spokesman Richard Maher said. Other cities participating include Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, Austin and Savannah, Ga.

People who want to adopt letters can choose them at participating post offices starting today. The Secret Santas must commit to returning with the gifts, preparing the packages for mailing and paying for proper postage by Dec. 23. Letter carriers will deliver the gifts to the families.

And like last year, Fontana expects many needy children will ask Santa for necessities, instead of toys. Many letters have come from mothers or grandparents who cannot afford to buy gifts for their children, Fontana said. They ask for shoes, winter coats and a toy or two, he said.