'Don't forget about me': USPS' Operation Santa looking for donors to make magic this year

‘Twas six weeks before Christmas and in the North Pole, creatures were stirring and whirring, eyes on their goal.

Yes, Santa Claus Lane opened for traffic much earlier this year – and now it's time for holiday angels to get in on the action.

The U.S. Postal Service’s Operation Santa, which began accepting letters from those in need in mid-September, will launch registration and ID verification Monday for potential gift-givers. Letter adoptions begin on Nov. 28, and USPSOperationSanta.com hopes to soon be making magic for thousands of families who would otherwise face a dark winter.

The program, now in its 110th year, is completely digital. USPS has built a robust social following for Santa on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And for the first time, USPS is proactively promoting Operation Santa in Spanish.

“We are trying to reach people where they are so they know about the program, know how to address an envelope, and the components necessary,” said Sue Brennan, senior PR representative for USPS.

At the program's core are the helping hearts – from companies to community groups to schools to private citizens – whose kindness lifts up strangers living on the margins.

“We've received so many thank-you notes and cards telling us that without this program, there would have been no gifts at all. We have seen amazing generosity that has brought us to tears,” Brennan said. “Some of the letters are absolutely gut-wrenching. There's so much need and some of the letter writers leave it all on the page.”

The USPS Operation Santa program receives thousands of letters each year, many that tug on heartstrings.
The USPS Operation Santa program receives thousands of letters each year, many that tug on heartstrings.

How the program works

Operation Santa provides an online channel where people can adopt letters written to Santa safely and securely.

Letters must include the letter writer’s first and last name and a complete return address (including street, apartment number, city, state, and ZIP code.) The envelope must have a postage stamp and be addressed to: Santa Claus, 123 Elf Road, North Pole, 88888.

The postal service even has a tips page on how to write a stellar Santa letter and templates little scribes can use.

The letters are then opened and reviewed at Santa’s U.S. “satellite workshop,” personal information is redacted, and they are uploaded onto the USPS Santa website.

As of Monday, those interested in adopting letters and sending gifts can go to USPSOperationSanta.com, create an account and have their identities verified. Letter writers don’t need to register.

The last day to send letters this year is Dec. 12; Dec. 19 is the last day to adopt. When someone adopts a letter, they receive instructions and a QR code that will allow them to send up to six packages for an individual adoption or up to 12 for family adoptions, Brennan said. The donors are responsible for shipping gifts and paying postage.

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Last year, USPS was inundated with thousands of letters by opening day for adoptions. But initially only 2,500 had the correct information to be posted – and they were all adopted within 10 minutes of the site opening, Brennan said.

USPS decided to open the program much earlier this year, she said, to have more letters with correct information available for adoption on opening day.

Operation Santa had a humble start

Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock conjured up Santa’s first mailroom in 1912, instructing local postmasters to let workers and citizens respond to Santa letters that were popping up in post offices. By the 1940s, the volume of mail increased so much that Operation Santa opened to charities, corporations and beyond.  

In 2017, Santa dipped his toe in the digital waters with the first online program in New York, which expanded across the U.S. in the following years.

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Operation Santa hit the big screen in 2020, with the premiere of the documentary “Dear Santa.”

The program – and the needs – continue to grow. Last year saw almost 25,000 letters adopted and more than 21,000 packages shipped.

Letters make for powerful prose

In polite but potent language, children share tender stories of loss and lives with simple yearnings. They ask for clothes, food, school supplies – and often gifts for siblings or parents.

"You want every letter to get adopted," Brennan said.

“This year was tough for me,” Kassandra wrote last year, telling Santa how her mom wasn’t working and her dad and brother were just trying to pay the rent.

“And something else bad was that one of my classmates went up to heaven to rest – he had cancer. I was really sad.” Kassandra’s wishes were small: A sketch pad and art material.

Adrian asked for some hoodies and a Ninja playset he could share with his three brothers.

“All I want for Christmas is for my family to be happy,” he wrote. “Please Santa, I have been really good this year. Don’t forget about me.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USPS Operation Santa looking for donors to adopt letter, send gifts