Monday, November 15, 2010
The Holidays are almost here, which means it's almost time for me to write my favorite story of the year - the annual "Kids' Christmas Letters to Santa Claus."
The story will run in a couple of weeks, but I wanted to give you a head's up so you'll be on the lookout for it, and also because the Oakland Post Office's consumer affairs director, Elma Ramirez, who founded the Santa letters project 24 years ago, needs volunteers this year more than ever.
But they don't make it easy for you. Last year, the Postal Service instituted some new rules to protect the children's privacy. No kids have ever been harmed because of this project, and they want to keep it that way.
In the old days, all you had to do was call Ramirez, and she'd send you as many letters as you wanted.
But now you have to show up in person at the main post office at 2091 13th Street in downtown Oakland (corner of 13th and Alice), Room 226, so they can check your I.D. as a security precaution.
Then they'll give you letters with the kids' contact information redacted, which means if you write back or buy any presents, you'll have to bring them back to the post office to be mailed.
It's a hassle, but it has to be done. A sad commentary on the times we live in.
"But there's been one unexpected upside," says Ramirez. "Before last year, we never got to meet any of our volunteers. It wasn't until they started bringing the presents here that we realized just how generous they were. They showed up with bicycles, hundreds of dollars worth of gifts, and so many toys! And they were high end toys, too!"
And that's the final reason why I'm writing this column: Ramirez asked me to thank you all on her behalf.
In addition to letter writers, she also needs some people to help her staff sort the letters, which are already piling up in her office.
The letters will be separated into two stacks - needy and non-needy. And the kids never lose their capacity to surprise. One year, a little girl wrote, "Dear Santa, Do you know Jesus? Are you friends? Please tell him I said hi."
And a little boy wrote, "Dear Santa, I'm Jewish and I know I shouldn't believe in you, but I can't help it."
And, of course, there's always a wiseacre who writes, "Dear Santa, Can you please make my little brother go away?"
But overwhelming majority of letters aren't funny at all. They're from desperately poor children who are facing another bleak Holiday season. Some have never had a Christmas present in their lives.
What really breaks your heart is when they say, "Santa, you don't have to give me anything, but could you please bring something for my little sister?"
And you'd be stunned by the number of kids who ask Santa to find Mom or Dad a job.
So if you can help sort letters, or buy a present for a needy child, or answer a letter from a non-needy child, please call Ramirez at 510-622-7420 and leave your phone number. It'll be the best Christmas present you ever gave yourself.