The United States Postal System is giving everyone a chance to be Santa this year — and giving underprivileged kids a chance to have the holiday they wished for. They’ve launched Operation Santa, a program that matches letters to Santa from kids in need to “elves” out in the general public who want to give. The USPS has allowed the public to read and answer kids’ letters from Santa every year since 1912, but this year they’ve created a website to make it even easier to participate by making the letters available nationally online.
Operation Santa is a type of so-called “micro-philanthropy,” which allows you to help someone in need directly (in contrast to traditional monetary donations to charity, which are handled without the donor knowing exactly how the funds were applied).
For those able to donate a gift “from Santa,” it can be rewarding to be able to imagine the personal impact of your gift. It’s also a great way to introduce kids to charitable giving, since the idea of sending a gift to a specific person feels particularly concrete and meaningful. Be An Elf, a nonprofit that adopts as many letters as donations allow each year, cites other reasons people might choose this type of philanthropy. “Some volunteers feel alone and sad over the holidays, and find comfort and inspiration being part of this program. Others have families and bring their older kids to teach them the meaning of Christmas.”
To adopt letters to Santa
If you’re interested in becoming a secret Santa, all you need to do is go to the USPS site and choose a letter (or several) from a child. Some kids might wish for toys or other fun gifts, but many requests are for basic items like a warm coat or school supplies. Once you’ve decided which letters to “adopt,” you can buy the gifts on their list and then mail them according to the instructions on the USPS site. Make sure to keep your gift anonymous and save your receipts — the gifts you purchase are considered a donation and are tax deductible.
To submit a letter to Santa
Any child in need this year can submit their own letter to Santa, and their list could be fulfilled by the USPS elves. Visit Beanelf.org for specific guidelines on how your child can write to Santa, and how to qualify to make your letter available for volunteers to adopt. If your children are too young to write, you can also submit a letter on behalf of your family. All letters have to be submitted by mail by December 14th to the address listed in order to be considered for the Operation Santa program.
The guidelines ask that parents be honest about their financial circumstances, and be aware that letters with requests for basic needs (as opposed to expensive electronics or luxury items) are often adopted first. They also advise parents with multiple children to send all the kids’ letters in one envelope. That way the letters can be adopted together, and you can avoid one of your children getting their wishes fulfilled while their siblings don’t.
All letters and gifts are filtered through the USPS to protect the privacy of the children involved. Once fulfilled, gifts are delivered to the post office where USPS will generate unique mail tags for each package to keep the process anonymous.
The USPS has options to adopt a letter as an individual and also as a team if you’d like to participate as a group this year. If you visit the site and see a message stating all letters have been claimed, check back again later — new letters are being submitted daily. Just remember, all gifts must be postmarked by December 20 so Santa can meet his deadlines!