For more than 100 years, the United States Postal Service has helped spread holiday cheer by allowing community members to adopt letters to Santa. Through the years, the program has helped thousands of kids and families in challenging circumstances throughout the ArkLaTex.
“If you’ve never taken part in this program before, I have for a few years, it’s just very fulfilling to be able to be able to look through the letters and find one that you like and go out there and buy gifts and then send them. It’s just something heartwarming about that, and I get enjoyment out of doing that each year,” says USPS spokesman David Walton.
Letter adoption opened Monday and remains open until Dec 19th. The USPS uploads letters regularly to the site as they arrive throughout the adoption period. Those looking to adopt can look through the letters, choose the ones they like, and purchase gifts for the letter writers. People quickly adopt the letters, so don’t be surprised if they’re gone! Anyone wanting to adopt can keep checking the website as new letters are uploaded regularly.
Children and families must submit their letters by Dec 12th. The site explains the process and even offers templates that participants can print out and fill in the items they want. Walton says the program grows yearly, but last year they had many letters that weren’t adoptable because the writers didn’t follow the instructions.
“We need to have a clear full address, and there needs to be a stamp on the envelope to Santa Clause, and a lot of people did not do that.”
Last year 1,561 letters from Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas were adopted. In 2020 that number was a little higher because more letters were submitted correctly.
|State||Letters Adopted 2021||Letters Adopted 2020|
Although most letters to Santa are from children, adults and families can write in too. Requests range from toys to tech to tools and everything in between.
“This year, I was really impressed. Kids really want games, they want books, they give the titles of the books, and they want clothes. Sometimes you’ll get the letters that really touch you. There was one from a child who wanted a bed because the children had to sleep with the mother. There was another where a ‘Nana’ was sick, and the child wanted Santa to make their Nana better,” said Walton. “So, those really, they touch me quite a bit. Just a well-rounded, so far what I’ve seen just a well-rounded group of letters, and I’m sure we can expect more of that this year.”
You can also adopt entire families. According to Walton, the USPS tries to group those together, which can then be adopted offline. This is an excellent option for companies, groups of employees, or friends to sponsor together. Each person in the group needs to be verified before they can adopt letters.
“We encourage the adopter of the letter to try to buy gifts for each of them, not just one. That wouldn’t be fair. We also have people who want to adopt, and they do it as a group.”
When the program started in 1912, Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock authorized postmasters and employees to respond to letters addressed to Santa. By the 1940s, the volume of letters increased so much that the USPS invited charitable organizations and companies to participate. They would write responses or send small gifts to the letter writers. Eventually, cities around the country established programs and teamed up with charitable organizations, allowing community members to adopt letters at local post offices.
Since the USPS digitized the program in 2017, letters can now be adopted from any part of the country. You can also choose the state you want to adopt a letter from on the Operation Santa website. This makes it easier to adopt the letters and safer for the letter writers. Walton says the digital adoption process has helped the program reach many more people.
“I still get complaints from people. They liked being able to go to the post office and going through those letters, but that also was very time-consuming because we had to have folks there on-site redacting all of those letters. Now we have Santa’s elves to do that for us.”
To adopt letters through the site, create an account and go through the quick verification process. Then you can look through the available letters and choose which ones you would like to adopt.
“So you would go out, and you would try to fulfill those wishes as best you can. Sometimes there are some challenging items that a child may ask for, maybe a real live dog, which we can’t do that. So maybe the alternative would be a stuffed animal. If they ask for something that’s real expensive, if you can’t fulfill that wish, you can put the letter back and adopt another or else just purchase an alternative gift that you think would be fitting.”
Once you purchase the gifts, box them up and bring them to the post office. USPS ships all of the presents priority mail so they can track them. Adopters can wrap the presents or write recipients’ names on the gift if they choose. They’re also allowed to include a personal note, and a template is available on the Operation Santa website. Presents must be shipped by Dec 19th to ensure they arrive in time for Christmas.
One person can adopt up to 15 letters and send each writer up to 6 boxes. For a family, that increases to 12 boxes.