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Boxes of holiday wishes

Posted: December 9, 2008 10:05 p.m.
Updated: December 10, 2008 4:59 a.m.

Santa Claus visited the Santa Clarita Valley Post Office Distribution Center Tuesday to read letters written by children to Santa.

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This isn't the first year Santa received letters from hungry children. And it may not be the first year these children go without food or Christmas presents.

But for many volunteers who stopped by the Santa Clarita Valley Post Office Distribution Center in Castaic Tuesday, it will be the first time they took action to change things.

Santa sat in a chair reading letters from children living in Santa Clarita, Pacoima, Sylmar, Burbank and several other nearby communities in Southern California.

The kids wrote to Santa asking for food, shoes and clothes for their little brothers and sisters.

"This year was rough," Santa read from a young girl's letter. "It made me appreciate a lot of things we have and things we had, too."

Several young mothers stood speechless among the television news cameras and postal officials present during the news conference.

The best way the fabled white-bearded man could tell this sad story in the Santa Clarita Valley was to read the letters himself.

"There were days in which we did not have food in the fridge. My dad's paycheck went all out for bills and to the rent," Santa read. "There was not a lot left for food and sometimes there was not anything left at all. I have six younger sisters ... two of them sleep with me."

The girl's letter said she's thankful for a place to live and a bed in which to sleep. All she wants for Christmas is food.

Boxes upon boxes of letters sat around Santa's feet. Scores of requests were as heartbreaking as the one of this child.

Older siblings asked Santa to bless their younger siblings. Single mothers asked for something simple for their child; men and women asked for jobs.

Food, clothing and shoes without holes were among the most frequent items sought. Everyone who wrote looked to Santa for answers.

A bit overwhelmed, Santa and the U.S. Postal Service called the news conference hoping to solicit volunteers who can either write reply letters to the children or to adopt a family in need - many of these families are without employment and distraught.

One child wrote: "Don't forget about us. We don't have money for Christmas presents. Do you give food, or just toys?"

A teen who turns 15 on Christmas Day and a mother employed as a housekeeper asked for one meal: Christmas dinner.

More than 30,000 letters to Santa are collected in the greater Los Angeles area each year, said Post Office spokesman Richard Maher. The great community need is especially apparent at this time of year.

Danielle Gruhlke and her two-year-old daughter Carsyn, of Castaic, stood by the news conference reading letters from Santa.

"I found out I could write a letter and I could not pass up the chance," Gruhlke said.

She heard about the chance to reach out and, with her sister-in-law Amanda Howton, came to pick a family to adopt.

"I feel like I want to help out all of them," Howton said. "After we saw all the letters in here, it really broke my heart."

The child Howton and Gruhlke chose to adopt wrote that she was 14 years old and living with her uncle.

"She said she tells her mom not to worry," Howton said of the letter writer. "She told her mom not to buy her anything. But she asked Santa for clothes."

A feeling of sorrow washed over Howton as she rubbed her pregnant stomach.
"Kids are so pure and innocent," Howton said. "They shouldn't have to go through this in their lives."
Volunteers who adopt families decide how much and what they will give, Maher said.

On hand was Michael Van Schoonhoven, Coca-Cola district sales manager for the Sylmar Sales Center, who collected the letters of 10 Southern California families that Coca-Cola will assist.

Van Schoonhoven partnered with Walmart and Home Depot to provide Christmas presents for the 10 families who hail from Los Angeles and the Antelope Valley.

Coca-Cola will deliver its presents Dec. 18 escorted by the Los Angeles Police Department's antique police vehicles.

Maher said thousands of letters are still unanswered. Anyone interested in volunteering can call (661) 775-6681.

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