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Postal Service program assists 75 families in the SCV

Volunteers answer letters

Posted: December 22, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 22, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Ryan Pederson, of Stevenson Ranch, stacks packages to be sent to needy families in Castaic on Friday. (Jonathan Pobre/ The Signal)

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A 100-year-old tradition is still going strong in the Santa Clarita Valley, as 75 local letters to Santa were answered by area residents this year at the U.S. Postal Service’s Processing and Distribution Center in Santa Clarita.

The center is one of 25 nationwide still participating in the USPS Letters to Santa Program, where residents can be matched with a needy family’s letter to Santa. They then send the family a package of gifts and other necessities that they asked for. The program began in 1912 when USPS employees in New York started responding to the numerous letters addressed to Santa. Since then, the program has grown nationwide and expanded to providing gifts and packages.

“We fulfilled all of our letters, so 75 needy families were adopted,” said Jennifer Clark, acting retail specialist for the center. “This is the first time in my three years being here that we did that.”

Stevenson Ranch resident Ryan Pederson went door-to-door in an elf’s outfit with his sister to raise money for the gifts, wrapping and postage for the 13 families he is adopting this year.

He is part of a local group known as Santa’s Special Forces, formed by his uncle to raise money and answer as many letters as possible.

“We tried to focus on picking out the letters that were pretty needy, like the kids that really just needed a Christmas,” he said after he shipped boxes of warm clothes, shoes, blankets and toys.

Patty Ramirez, of Oxnard, related the needs in the letters she read with her own childhood experiences. The requests “hit home” for her and her husband.

“We have a little bit more than others, so why not go ahead and give them a little something?” she said.

The packages for the three families she adopted included toys for 2-year-old twins, warm clothing and food for a family with a mother who is out of work, and a gift certificate for clothes for little boys.

Many processing centers and post offices stopped participating when security measures on the program increased in 2009, after a USPS employee in Maryland discovered that a registered sex offender was trying to answer children’s letters. Now, a person wishing to adopt a letter can go to a post office with a valid ID, and sign a form. The child’s address on the envelope will have been blocked out and the letter assigned a number. The person then returns with the letter and gift to the same post office and pays the postage for the package. A postal employee will match the number on the letter with the child’s address, apply a label to it and send it.

“A number of offices didn’t participate for the first year because they were unprepared for the extra work,” said Richard Maher, spokesman for USPS. “This year only had 25 locations participated nationwide because it is a huge amount of work for the Postal Service right during our busiest time of the year.”

Of the 25 locations, four are in California – Santa Clarita Valley, Santa Ana, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Clark at the Santa Clarita Processing and Distribution Center said the program was successful locally because of “dedication, a lot of multitasking, and just people having the generosity this time of year.”

The Postal Service reports that it doesn’t know exactly how many letters to Santa are sent during the holidays, but that it’s in the millions each year.

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