USA Today: Postal Service to block 'Dear Santa' letters to North Pole, Alaska

The U.S. Postal Service, citing security and privacy concerns of children, will no longer forward "Dear Santa" letters to the Alaska town of North Pole, putting in jeopardy the town's 55-year-old volunteer letter-answering effort by the town.

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

Postal Service officials note that a postal worker last year in Maryland recognized a volunteer in the agency's Operation Santa program as a registered sex offender, the Associated Press reports.

The Postal Service now prohibits volunteers in such programs to have access to children's last names and addresses.

Mayor Doug Isaacson says the Postal Service is "running roughshod" over the city of North Pole, whose identity is tied to Christmas, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports.

"What grinch would conceive of something so sinister?" Isaacson tells the paper. He says businesses and civic organizations in the town of 2,200 gear up for the program every year "when we're able to really demonstrate the spirit of Christmas."

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski has called on the postmaster general to scrap the new policy.

Agency spokesperson Pam Moody says the Postal Service still runs the giant Operation Santa Program in which children can have their letters to Santa answered, and the restrictions do not affect private organizations running their own letter efforts, the AP reports.

What has changed, she says, are the generically addressed letters to "Santa Claus, North Pole" that for years have been forwarded to volunteers in the Alaska town. That program will stop, unless changes are made before Christmas. That program began in 1954 when air traffic controllers at a nearby base began responding to letters to Santa from children of military servicemen overseas, the newspaper says.

Another postal service spokesman, Ernie Swanson, tells the Daily News-Miner that the letters — as many as 150,000 annually — will still be delivered to the North Pole post office, but he's not sure what postal workers will do with them.

"If it becomes what we consider waste, we'll have it recycled," Swanson, in Seattle, tells the paper.

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Source: Originally published in USA Today on November 18, 2009