Wednesday, December 24, 2003
The magic of Christmas can often be summed up in one moment. For some children, it's the excitement and wonderment that fills their eyes when they receive a letter back from Santa Claus.
Every year thousands of children across the United States and other parts of the world sit down to carefully pen their thoughts and wishes in the form of a letter to Santa Claus, often reminding the jolly old elf that they have been good throughout the year.
The Yakima Valley is no different than any other part of the world. Here, children still sit down and write out their thoughts to Santa, often including a wish list and holiday greetings. However, what happens between the letter being written and the envelope being dropped off at the local post office and that special moment when the child receives their response is almost magical in and of itself.
Post offices from Bickleton to Granger and Mabton send their mail, including sentiments addressed to Santa Claus, to be sorted at the Yakima facility.
According to Cheryl Summers, a clerk at the Yakima Post Office, there is an employee in Yakima who traditionally responds to letters that come through the facility. However, not every letter is answered at that level.
Other letters continue the journey north to Alaska, where several post offices receive and respond to the specially addressed letters.
Dwight Grimmer, postmaster of the Mabton Post Office, said one of the final resting places for letters addressed to Santa Claus is Wrangel, Alaska. Grimmer, who used to work at the post office in Wrangel, said every year he worked there the facility would receive at least one large mailbag filled with letters addressed to Santa Claus.
"I was surprised we received as many as we did," Grimmer said.
He said Wrangel started receiving letters addressed to Santa when the mail system became automated. He explained many of the addresses on the Santa letters include the highest zip code people can think of and since Wrangel's zip code, 99929, is the highest zip code in the United States, the letters automatically get routed in that direction.
However, the letters that arrived in Wrangel weren't necessarily replied to. Instead, Grimmer said, the letters were given to the local newspaper and many were published.
One of the busiest destinations for Santa letters and other Christmas sentiments is North Pole, Alaska. According to the branch manager in North Pole, Donna Matthews, last year the mail facility received 70,000 letters.
"They come in from all over the U.S.," Matthews said, noting that letters from Europe are also received.
She explained that some of the letters are addressed to the North Pole, while others carry no postage and simply have the words Santa or Noel scrawled across them in children's handwriting.
"They barcode them to us," Matthews said.
Once the letters arrive at the North Pole, a myriad of volunteers work from the day after Thanksgiving through the Christmas holiday to ensure that each of the letters with a return address are answered.
Matthews said the letters are handed over to the North Pole Badgers Lions Club, with many of them being answered by club members, as well as people involved in other charitable organizations. Matthews said many people in the community get involved with the letter writing project, including students at North Pole Middle School.
Matthews said in order to ensure that the Lions Club and the Santa's Mailbag project continue every year, the organization holds fund-raisers from January through December. She explained that the funds are then used to purchase the stationary and postage needed to ensure the letters get back to the children who are eagerly awaiting a response.
Matthews said the North Pole branch of the Fairbanks, Alaska post office was started in 1954, and since then many letters addressed to Santa Claus have been received at the facility. She explained that Santa letters arrive at the branch office throughout the year, with the Santa's Mailbag project collecting them and answering them when the holiday season arrives.
. Elena Olmstead can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail her at email@example.com