With nine brothers and sisters, Barbara Duty’s parents sometimes needed a little extra help during the holidays.
Duty, now a retired U.S. Postal Service worker, has fond childhood memories of Christmas, though — since her family received help from the Fire Department, neighbors or other organizations.
“I figured if I ever got in a position where I could give back, I would,” Duty said as she sat inside a post office in the Bayview district.
Duty is among hundreds of volunteers this year who sifted through children’s letters to Santa, picking out requests to grant for the kids.
A holiday tradition for post offices since 1912, the Operation Letters to Santa program aims to fulfill Christmas wishes for children in need.
“It does a lot for the children, but the people who give, we benefit as well,” Duty said.
Last year, about 260 volunteers purchased gifts or wrote responses for 300 children.
The local post office plucks every envelope addressed to the North Pole, prints out versions that black out identifying information to maintain anonymity of the letter writer, and makes the messages available to volunteers. The individual Santas bring the gifts and letters back to the post office, and mail carriers address and deliver the responses.
Volunteers said they tend to gravitate toward selecting letters that contain signs of need — requests for shoes, school supplies and a job for Mom — instead of ones asking for a bounty of toys.
Alan Gaynor snatched up a letter from Kailey, 4, whose requests included noodles and sweet-and-sour chicken, candy canes and gumdrops.
“It kind of gets a little lump in your throat,” said Gaynor, who left the post office with 51 letters to distribute to the Dartmouth Alumni Association of Silicon Valley.
Gaynor, a father, said he sympathizes with parents who cannot provide the Christmas they dream about for their children. That is why he will be responding to one particular letter for toddler clothes, shoes and a doll with a stroller — written in a mother’s looping print.
The wish lists children pen to Santa run the gamut, from their own personal toylands to simple needs to fantastic fantasies.
In the roughly 600 letters to St. Nick collected by the San Francisco post office, about half ask for expensive game systems and electronics. Others seek simpler gifts — a winter coat, a stuffed animal, sneakers.
But throughout the requests runs a common thread: children know what they want and are specific in their requests.
“Dear Santa,” wrote Annika. “This Christmas, I would like some fairy dust, the kind that if you take a pinch, make a wish and blow it out of your hand, your wish will come true.”
Edgar wrote Kris Kringle on behalf of himself and his sister, who wants a handbag. But not just any handbag — “a handbag that’s pink.”
The material and supernatural requests are also sprinkled with mere conversation with Santa.
After requesting a cellphone with unlimited minutes, Raime asked Santa, “I was wondering if you would be my pen pal.”
Another writer, Amy, simply asked: “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?”
And just to be on the safe side, some of the letter writers work to get their requests in early, like Kyle, who signed his letter, “See you in four months.”
Hello Im writing on the behalf of my two year old daughter, this year has been really hard for me her dad was incarcerated and we miss him a whole lot he was also the provider for us ... I have been struggling on finding a job, being a single mother is very complicated Ive been struggling to pay my bills ... so I dont have money for presents this year and would love for someone to adopt us this year. She loves baby dolls with the strollers and accessories she likes to play like she’s cooking ... and if you can some winter clothes
Faith and Tatianna
For Christmas I would like a surfboard (please not a longboard). I don’t mind if it is used.
See you in four months,
I would like some red-and-black Jordans, an electric guitar or health in the baby and my mom, my dad and my pets.