In Long Reach, an extension of Santa's hand Christmas: At the request of parents and for $5 a letter, Columbia's Sandy Van Bibber answers children's mail to jolly old St. Nicholas.

November 19, 1996|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Santa Claus is coming to town -- and, this year, he's coming as close as Columbia's Long Reach village via a woman named Sandy Claus.

Stopping just short of making a list and checking it twice, the longtime Columbia resident -- also known as Sandy Van Bibber -- is writing holiday-minded letters on behalf of the jolly man to youngsters who have visions of sugarplums well, you get the point.

At the request of parents willing to pay her $5 for each one-page missive, Van Bibber has written dozens of letters and sent them via express mail to the village of North Pole, Alaska, to get an authentic postmark. To get the letters back in time for Christmas, the deadline for sending letters is Friday; after that, letters will go through Santa Claus, Ind, or straight to children's homes, she says.

"When I heard about this, I knew right away I wanted to do it," Van Bibber says. "I'm not going to make a million dollars, but it will make a lot of kids happy."

A retired government worker who has lived in Columbia more than 20 years, Van Bibber, 53, got the idea to write letters from Santa while browsing America Online in September.

Sample letters, marketing tips and phone numbers for holiday stationery companies were provided online, she says.

Then, she posted fliers in day care centers, grocery stores and village center offices.

Immediately, parents responded. Filling out Van Bibber's forms, they provide details about their children: ages, schools, names of pets, chores, and most coveted holiday gifts.

Older children often request video games, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and products spun off from cartoons and films, Van Bibber says.

Using the information provided by parents, Van Bibber generates letters on her computer -- on candy cane or Santa's elves stationery and accompanied by a sheet of holiday stickers -- tailored to each child.

Her letter to one 3-year-old who wants a puzzle set and Matchbox cars gently reminds the child to pick up his toys and help with chores, Van Bibber said.

Says Diane Lynch, a mother of two in Columbia's Oakland Mills village, "I felt like this was something more than just standing in line and sitting on Santa's lap. This is something different, something they can keep in their scrapbooks."

Lisa Steptoe of Dorsey's Search village wanted a letter sent to her son Jordon, 5, who thinks a jolly, chubby man with reindeer will make his dreams of getting a Nintendo 64 and a "Talking Woody Doll" come true.

"He still believes in Santa, and I wanted to keep the magic of the holidays alive for him," Steptoe says. "Kids get a little too much reality from TV all through the year -- the drive-by shootings and all the sex. Once a year, I feel like we can give kids a little bit of a dream."

Thousands of other Americans are also keeping their children's dreams of Santa alive through letters.

In North Pole, Alaska, which is 14 miles north of Fairbanks and has a population of about 3,000, postmaster Steve Cornelius forwards about 300,000 letters each year from parents wanting the North Pole postmark.

"We absolutely don't mind doing it," he says. "If people want help making their holiday more complete, we are glad to help."

As a result of publicity carried on the Internet, dozens of letter-writers like Van Bibber -- and at least one other person in the Baltimore area -- have picked up the idea.

AOL even has a specific message group dedicated to writing such Santa letters; a check on it yesterday afternoon turned up a discussion among letter-writers about composing notes in Spanish and about the political-correctness issues.

For Van Bibber, the winter holiday season is, appropriately, her favorite time of year. Last week, after the season's first snow had dusted the ground and as the scent of cinnamon potpourri wafted through her Jeffers Hill condominium, she crafted 10 more Santa letters.

Many children, such as Lisa Steptoe's son, will get their letters around Christmas Eve.

"Last year, my son talked to Santa on the phone," Steptoe says. "It was a friend of mine on the other end, but Jordan was just so excited. He said he promised to be a good boy, and he apologized for not having a chimney. He said he would make sure Mommy kept the laundry vent open for Santa."

Pub Date: 11/19/96

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