Putting Santa's stamp on it

Letters: Carroll County Girl Scouts are helping spread holiday joy with personalized posts to children from St. Nick.

December 22, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The letter is to an 8-year-old Carroll County boy who will be looking for a certain type of sports equipment under the Christmas tree.

"I know you have worked very hard at Freedom Elementary," the letter says. "Keep reading every night. My elves are busy now making golf sets."

The letter purports to be from the best-known resident of the North Pole. But it really was written by the boy's 11-year-old sister, Stephanie Miller, who says: "I know he will be so surprised and he will wonder how Santa knows so much about him. I can't wait to see his face when he opens this letter."

It's the time of the year when post offices everywhere are inundated with children's letters to Santa Claus. At the same time, however, some are quietly ghost-writing letters on Santa's behalf and sending them to the young true believers.

In Eldersburg, Stephanie is among about a dozen Girl Scouts who are writing personalized letters in Santa's name, encouraging children to listen to their parents, share their toys and study hard in school. With confidential details provided by parents, they tailor messages to the child's age and hometown, gift preferences and favorite pastimes.

Bridget Leahy, troop leader and proofreader, said the requests have arrived with enough information to customize each message, even when several children in the family are to receive the letters. As soon as the writing is done, the "confidential information goes right into the fireplace," she said.

Imprinted on colorful holiday stationery, embellished with sprinkles and holiday stickers, the messages come with a handmade bookmark and can include a Bible story, if requested. "Santa, North Pole" is stamped in the upper left-hand corner of each envelope, just above a print of a red stocking.

"This really helps make little kids happy," said Emily Burke, 10. "It's like magic because they still believe, and they get so excited. I have two younger siblings, and I can just imagine how they will feel when they get letters."

Lyana Brown added, "I am 13 and I get excited just getting a regular letter."

The reply letters name the recipient's siblings, teachers, family pets and favorite playthings, as well as hint at the possibility that a most coveted item might arrive Christmas morning.

"I hear you really liked the pirate boat I gave you last year," Santa wrote to one 3-year-old boy. "If you share with your brother and sisters, I'll bring another favorite toy this year."

At Baltimore's main post office, where most Maryland letters addressed to Santa eventually land, the amount of North Pole mail reaches into the thousands, said Kathleen Adams, customer relations coordinator.

Adams and three others send a postcard from Santa to the sender of every letter that has a readable return address -- 905 as of Wednesday.

The card, decorated with a pair of smiling Santas, lets writers know that St. Nick has received the letter and that he "is still working to fill all the lists."

"It can get overwhelming, but we have no heart to stop," Adams said.

After years of practice, the postal workers can home in on messages from the neediest children. "We have a lot of willing sponsors who have offered to take care of those children," Adams said.

The Manhattan post office in New York City sorts hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa Claus every year and invites volunteers to answer with gifts.

In Westminster, members of the National Honor Society at Winters Mill High School acted as Santa's elves in replying to letters from the first grade at Cranberry Station Elementary.

The members of Girl Scout Cadette Troop 1837 and Junior Troop 192 at Faith Lutheran Church in Eldersburg are unsure exactly who among them came up with their letters idea. They remember the chilly afternoon when they were all selling Girl Scout cookies in front of the local Wal-Mart.

"We were trying to keep our minds off the cold so we started talking about Savannah and how we could raise money to get there," said Christina Miles, 13.

Someone suggested letters from Santa. They would request a $3 donation and the proceeds would help pay for a summer trip to the Georgia birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of their organization.

They have mailed more than 70 letters and will continue posting them until pre-Christmas delivery is no longer possible.

Letters have gone to California, Texas, Indiana and Kansas as well as Maryland; two were to infants whose parents requested them for scrapbooks. The writers told those children that "we celebrate Christmas with gifts all because of a tiny baby, just like you."

While the older girls draft the letters, the younger Scouts stuff and stamp the envelopes.

The girls also offer suggestions to those tackling the writing. Sarah Lorenz, 11, struggled to find an ending on a letter to an 8-year-old girl who had given no hint of what she wanted for Christmas.

"Santa told her to keep practicing her violin and taking care of her new puppy," said Sarah. "Then, I remembered the request said she was good in math, so I told her the elves were making some great games she might like."

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