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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
In Fort Wayne and around the country, the U.S. Postal Service asks staff to handle the letters people send to Santa.

Pleas fill Santa’s mailbag

Hope resounds in letters from children, adults in need

– They’re like prayers in physical form.

For more than a century, children have written letters to Santa Claus – handwritten pleas to the derivative of Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, renowned for his generosity.

The fourth-century saint seemed to have a habit of helping people when their circumstances seemed most desperate, whether it was providing dowries for daughters to prevent them from being sold into prostitution or miraculously interceding for innocent men about to be executed.

Today, of course, the vast majority of requests are from children seeking a Nintendo DS or an iPhone.

But the truly desperate pleas – the heartbreaking requests sent through the mail like a prayer of supplication – those still come, too.

Because the U.S. Postal Service isn’t sure how to get the letters to the jolly old elf – and since almost none has postage attached, let alone the international postage needed to get to the North Pole – they designate Santa’s helpers to answer letters with a return address.

For the last 11 years, Santa’s helper in Fort Wayne has been Patty Noll, who makes sure that if she’s able, the letter writers know that someone, somewhere heard their wish, whatever the request and regardless of spelling or grammar issues.

This year, with the economy still in tatters, some of the wishes seem to come from the very edge of despair.

“My kids this year want a lot of things that I can’t buy them,” one letter begins. “All I want for Christmas this year is for my 3 babies to Be happy and thankful for what they get.”

What circumstances would lead a grown woman, who describes herself as a 25-year-old mother of “three beautiful kids,” to write a letter to Santa? The kind of circumstances where there’s no alternative.

“Your my only hope,” she writes.

Catholics pray to saints because they believe saints in heaven have a direct connection to God. One letter writer hopes that is true of Saint Nicholas, too, and wants something Santa can’t put in his sack: “Please tell Jesus my daddy needs His help,” the child writes. “My daddy has addictions and has no steady income.”

Unlike many letters that consist of long lists of material wants, this child longs for something deeper.

“I have lots of toys,” and would rather have a daddy back than more gadgets.

“He has made mistakes and doesn’t believe he deserves a good life,” the letter says. “He and my mommy are not married and I want them to get married.”

Some children recognize the economic straits their parents are in, and are hoping Santa can bridge the gap.

“My mom and dad are not working,” one child explains. “Please could you at least bring my sisters and brothers and me one present …?”

Some writers are not desperate at all, except for a break from what has befallen them.

“My year started off tough, but I made it threw,” reads one letter, written by a mother on behalf of her 10-month-old boy. “I had to have open heart surgery when I was 5 days old and I will have to have another one after the first of the year.”

And the surgeries were just the beginning: One of the boy’s older brothers died in November. “He was only 4,” the letter says.

A surviving older brother wrote, too: “My mom and I have recently started going to church so that we can be with him again someday,” the letter says. “Even though my brother cannot get presents this year, please remember him!”

Some letter writers only want things for those in need.

One author asked for turkeys and hams to be donated to several families, asked for a donation to the homeless shelter, and asked for heating oil and a winter jacket for women in Massachusetts.

Another woman asked for a washer and dryer – she gives away clothes to the needy, and washing the donated items at the Laundromat is getting to be too much for her.

“I love helping people, just like you – I just don’t have the money,” she writes.

But even among the desperate pleas, there is not only the hope that things will change for the better, but genuine thanks, if only for listening.

“For whoever reads this, thank you for taking you time out your busy day to listen to me vent,” one letter ends. “God bless, and have a mairy Christmas.”