TIME WAS WHEN all letters addressed to Santa Claus at the North Pole were from kids sending page-long wish lists.
But with the ailing economy, unemployment and budget cutbacks, now mothers and fathers are sending Santa their own letters, asking for food, coats and shoes -- basic necessities for them and their children.
More than 3,000 letters addressed to the "North Pole" and "Arctic Circle" are expected to arrive at the U.S. Post Office's regional headquarters at 900 E. Fayette St. this holiday season, directed there from local branches. Although most of the letters are still from kids asking for Barbie dolls and Monopoly games, a number of the letters -- perhaps as many as 300 -- will ask for help and donations.
All Brenda B. of Baltimore, a single mother of four, asks of Santa Claus this year is clothing for her kids.
"Dear Santa," she writes, "I receive a check once a month for me and my kids, and it's just not enough to give my children what they need. Since they have decreased my check by 7 percent, it is even harder. All my children need clothes for the winter, and I would like for them each to get some type of learning toy to help them out in school."
Postal employee Vanessa Jackson, who's handling the holiday mail this year, says she's been getting more and more needy letters as well as calls. "We've been getting a lot of calls asking for help," she said. "Most of the time [the letter writers] don't have food or clothing."
Letters from needy families are passed on to companies and organizations who will adopt the family for Christmas and grant wishes by purchasing toys, donating food or giving clothes. Some of this year's participants include Price Waterhouse, Glenmar United Methodist Church, Elmhurst Elementary School and the Social Security Administration. Other participants are people who come into the office asking to adopt a family.
Regional post offices across the nation sponsor such help-the-needy programs during the holiday season. Baltimore began its program six years ago, when post office employees received a letter from a 10-year-old boy asking for a winter coat for his mom. His letter touched the hearts of many employees
because "he didn't want any toys. All he wanted was help for his mom," said Irene Lericos, communications director for the Baltimore branch.
Her office collected money from employees and bought the mother a coat.
Word of mouth and publicity about the program have spurred needy families to write. Many of the letters are addressed to the Public Affairs Department, which coordinates the distribution of the letters to companies and organizations, and include shoes and clothes sizes. Lericos says it's gotten to the point that people rely on the post office for a help during the holidays. She says she has one woman calling every week to inquire about the status of her letter. "These people start to depend on us."
Last year, about 200 of the 2,200 Dear Santa letters asked for help, but not all of them were answered because the post office did not have enough volunteers and donors.
Some of this year's batch come from people who've lost their jobs because of the recession. One Baltimore woman writes, "I never thought three months ago I wouldn't be working . . . It's really been hard trying to make ends meet. My son wants clothing and toys for Christmas. But I can't afford both. We need food as well. As for myself I need a good robe for myself. I know this Christmas is going to be hard."
Another Baltimore woman wrote this year asking for three rolls of 29-cent stamps. She said she was too poor to afford them, but needed the stamps to send letters to different agencies to ask for food baskets for needy families during the holidays.
And some of the letters asking for help are coming from children. Thirteen-year-old Taquoya S. of Baltimore asked Santa to give her mom a coat and a pair of shoes. Her mom usually has enough money to celebrate Christmas, but because of an operation this year, that won't be possible. "My mom is good at helping people, she never say no," Taquoya wrote. "She done so much for us these last 12 years. We want her wish to come true."
Other letters, of course, are still from kids wishing for gifts and toys. Big on the wish list this year were Super Nintendo game sets, G.I. Joe figures, "Where's Waldo?" game boards and Pretty Crimp and Curl dolls.
Danielle H. of Bel Air asked for a baby brother and a singing mermaid. Janice C. of Ellicott City addressed a letter to Santa's elves, writing, "I hope you're all doing good. So Santa will be proud."
Kris H. of Baltimore snitched on her sister in her letter to Santa. She wrote, "Amanda has been bad every day, I have been good. I want stereo and CDs."
And as an afterthought, Joe R. of Annapolis typed the following to Santa: "I want more stuff on my list and I hope your shop is going well. Also, how is Ms. Claus? Now let's get to my list . . . ." He wanted a WWF microphone, wrestling buddies and 24 packs of candy cigarettes, among a dozen other items.
More inventive kids cut out advertisements from toy stores and glued the pictures onto the letters, just so Santa in his last-minute rush would know exactly what they wanted.