Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: New postal rules halt ‘Dear Santa’ letters to North Pole

FAIRBANKS— The U.S. Postal Service will no longer forward “Dear Santa” letters to Kris Kringle’s elves in North Pole, citing security concerns and putting in doubt the future of a volunteer letter-answering effort that dates back 55 years.

North Pole Mayor Doug Isaacson has called on Alaska’s congressional delegation to intervene, saying the Postal Service is “running roughshod” over the city of North Pole, whose very identity is tied to Christmas.

“What grinch would conceive of something so sinister?” Isaacson said. “We are known worldwide for being special because of our association with Christmas. Businesses and civic organizations gear up for this. That’s when we’re able to really demonstrate the spirit of Christmas.”

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski wrote a letter to the postmaster general asking him to preserve the tradition.

“Children across the world will be anticipating a letter from Santa this Christmas,” she wrote. “I believe that a small action by the Postal Service to continue the tradition ... could go a long way to bring joy to these children and their families.”

The letters — as many as 150,000 — will still make their way to the North Pole post office, according to Postal Service spokesman Ernie Swanson. He’s not sure, though, what postal workers will do with them.

“If it becomes what we consider waste, we’ll have it recycled,” Swanson said from Seattle.

“It’s become a privacy issue. There’s been concern on the part of outsiders about the Postal Service just handing out this information to people and what could happen.”

The concern is that names, addresses and other private information about small children could get into the wrong hands.

Last Christmas, a Postal Service worker in Maryland recognized a registered sex offender among the volunteers for the Postal Service’s Operation Santa program, The Associated Press reported. The program, in which volunteers provide gifts for children who express their need in a letter to Santa, was suspended briefly in New York and Chicago.

Swanson said he’s unaware of problems with the letter-writing program in North Pole, where an organization known as Santa’s Mailbag recruits volunteers to answer thousands of letters.

In past years, the volunteers came from Santa’s Seniors, the Arctic Lions Club, Key Bank and Eielson Air Force Base.

The city is swamped with letters to Santa every year, and only a portion of them can be answered, the mayor said.

The effort began in 1954 when air traffic controllers at Fort Wainwright, formerly Ladd Field, began responding to letters to Santa from children of military servicemen overseas.

Alma Rider, the secretary at Santa’s Seniors, said volunteers had already set aside a day, Dec. 3, to answer some of Santa’s letters.

“That’s a darned real shame,” she said of the Postal Service’s new policy. “These kids are really, really sincere about it. I think last year we answered 3,000 letters. Some of them were so interesting. One little girl said, ‘I want a rainbow of presents, red, white, green and blue and all of the colors of the rainbow.’”

Paul Brown, operations manager at the Santa Claus House in North Pole, called the Postal Service’s new policy “unfortunate.” Santa Claus House receives tens of thousands of letters to Santa.

“That was a policy that was put in place on a national level because of an incident on the East Coast,” he said.

Brown said the Santa Claus House is willing to provide some of its letters, as it has in the past, to Santa’s Mailbag for volunteers to answer.

A Santa’s Mailbag representative could not be reached for comment.

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Source: By Amanda Bohman. Originally published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on November 18, 2009.