UPDATE: I just got off the phone with Sue Brennan from the Postal Service, who said the AP report isn’t entirely accurate. The Postal Service isn’t canceling the whole letters to Santa program, but local post offices that don’t have the resources to redact childrens’ addresses and replace them with codes — as is now required by the Postal Service — will have to opt out of the program.
Large cities such as New York, Chicago, Washington and Philadelphia can afford the security measures and will still answer letters sent locally that are addressed to Santa. But many small towns, such as North Pole, Alaska, don’t have the money and will have to end their participation in Operation Santa, Brennan said. Los Angeles is one of the few big cities also ending the program, she said.
Original post: This may be one of the saddest stories I’ll read today. The Associated Press reports that the U.S. Postal Service is killing Operation Santa, a 55-year-old program where volunteers answer childrens’ letters sent to Santa Claus with letters postmarked “North Pole, Alaska.” The problem? A sex offender wormed his way into the program last year and almost gained access to childrens’ names and addresses. And rather than jump through the hoops that would be required to completely safeguard kids, the cash-strapped post office decided it’s easier to just scrap the whole thing:
Last year, a postal worker in Maryland recognized an Operation Santa volunteer there as a registered sex offender. The postal worker interceded before the individual could answer a child’s letter, but the Postal Service viewed the episode as a big enough scare to tighten rules in such programs nationwide.
The agency now prohibits volunteers from having access to children’s family names and addresses, said spokeswoman Sue Brennan. The Postal Service instead redacts the last name and addresses on each letter and replaces the addresses with codes that match computerized addresses known only to the post office – and leaves it up to individual post offices if they want to go through the time-consuming effort to shield the information.
Anchorage-based agency spokeswoman Pamela Moody said dealing with the tighter restrictions is not feasible in Alaska.
I remember being thrilled when I got my letter back from Santa Claus when I was a kid, and it’s a shame this one bad apple has ruined the program for everybody.