It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
That is, if Christmas involved socially distanced St. Nicks, jolly old mall elves cloistered behind plexiglass and the Claus clan peering out from Zoom.
SOS Santa baby: We sure could use a dose of normalcy hurrying down our chimneys tonight.
As our achingly surreal COVID world slinks into the holiday season, there is at least one tradition standing steadfast this year – the U.S. Postal Service’s Operation Santa, which launches Monday.
The 108-year-old program that fulfills wish lists for needy families and kids couldn’t come at a more critical juncture, USPS spokeswoman Kim Frum told USA TODAY.
“2020 has seen its share of challenges affecting individuals and families in so many ways. COVID-19 resulted in job losses, temporary unemployment and, sadly, the loss of family and friends,” Frum said. ”Couple that with devastation from natural disasters, and it’s easy to see why USPS’ Operation Santa program is more important than ever.”
The Postal Service is encouraging little ones to send in their snail mail letters starting Monday through Dec. 15 to “Santa Claus 123 Elf Road, North Pole, 88888.” USPS knows needs are sky-high this year, and Operation Santa workers are ready to embrace a blizzard of requests.
And for the first time ever, the letter adoption process is all digital – and nationwide. “If you live in Key West, Florida, you could log on and adopt a letter from Portland, Oregon,” Frum said.
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Gift givers, who must be vetted for security reasons through a short registration process, can tap as many letters as they want online, and the anonymity of the letter writers is always protected. There will be no in-person letter adoptions at post offices. Gifts, however, must be dropped off at any post office location, preferably wrapped. USPS recommends using free Priority Mail boxes.
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From the scribble of tiny missives can resonate soul-stirring words.
While some children request toys and games, many yearn for basic necessities – and often for siblings, parents, others – a remarkable “selflessness,” Frum said. They “hope that other kids can have gifts or ask for a job for their parents or medicine for family members so “daddy isn’t sick anymore.”’
Kayla, in a letter last year, sought a “couch that is also a bed” for her dad who suffered from back pain after sleeping on a sofa in their one-room apartment.
Vicky asked for a new powered wheelchair to replace her “very old one” and some healthy treats for her service dog.
Almir, who said his heart was “crushed” when his mother died of cervical cancer, sought any kind of help for his family and maybe a warm coat and some gloves. “Even though I’m a boy and was always told not to cry, it still is hard not having my mommy around,” he wrote.
And parents sometimes reach out as well. Amber, 39, who said she had been homeless and sleeping in a van, was spending Christmas with her children for the first time “in a long time.” On her wish list: dish soap, toilet paper, pillows and blankets – and for her kids to be “happy and have a wonderful day.”
Frum is confident the spirit of Christmas – even an unconventional Christmas – will transcend the clutches of a public health crisis.
“It will be hard to celebrate the holidays without loved ones, whether because of distance or actual loss. But being able to provide even the tiniest bit of normalcy or spark of happiness to those in need would mean the world to so many people right now,” she said.