EVAN DUCHARME/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINERChildren’s letters to Santa Claus are reviewed at San Francisco’s main post office Tuesday. The Letters from Santa program

Letters to Santa program at SF post office aims to bring joy to kids

In the 101 years since the U.S. Postal Service created the Letters to Santa program, what has changed most isn’t the concept behind it, but what children are writing on their wish lists.

One letter among the hundreds the public could select at San Francisco’s main post office read, “Dear Santa, I want a Ipod and a IPad. Thank you Santa. Love, Layla.”

The public can respond to such letters, which children address to the North Pole or Santa Claus. On Tuesday, Monique Arzaga, 28, traveled from Concord to find some children whose dreams she could help make come true.

“They want iPhones; it’s crazy to see the generation now, huh?” she told her cousin. “IPads, iPhones, I guess they’re not traditional.”

This year, more children are asking for high-tech gadgets instead of basic necessities like food and clothing, said post office consumer affairs director Fernando Davila, who, along with three other staffers, sifts through all the letters.

Many requests matched what would be found in a Black Friday ad, joked Oakland resident Todd Diemer, 29. Indeed, a letter from Selma simply had cutouts of ads for a table tennis table, foosball table, dollhouse mansion and telescope.

“I don’t want to be a Grinch,” Diemer said, “but where I’m coming from, a lot of the letters were a lot more humbling — like, ‘My family doesn’t have food for Christmas, so can you give me food?’”

Both Diemer and Arzaga settled for letters from children they felt had great need. Arzaga chose a typed note from a single mother writing on behalf of her children, because it hit close to home.

“I grew up with a single mom and I know how hard it is to provide Christmas for multiple kids and be on Social Security,” she said.

Before the program’s inception in 1912, postal workers took it upon themselves to answer as many letters from children as they could, sending packages or cards. Mail-sorting machines now act as the elves, setting aside letters addressed to the North Pole, said San Francisco postal district spokesman James Wigdel.

Last year, the public picked up about 500 of the 980 letters. The numbers this year are down — 316 out of 587 — but Davila said there is still time to grant the expected 1,000 requests. Next week is the last chance to participate in the program — Tuesday to view a letter and Friday to send a package. The main post office is at 1300 Evans Ave.

Children whose letters aren’t selected get a general letter from Santa, with postage costs covered by the USPS.Bay Area NewsNorth Polesanta clausUSPS

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