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'Dear Santa' letters in Southern California will be answered, postal official says

December 3, 2009 |  6:00 am

Yes, Los Angeles. There is a Santa Claus.

Richard Maher, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, assured the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday that letters in Southern California addressed to Santa Claus would be answered despite new restrictions designed to protect children.

Concern had been raised after a registered sex offender in Maryland last year “adopted” a letter under a popular program begun in 1912, in which businesses, charities and other volunteers respond to thousands of letters addressed to Santa each year, and in some cases send gifts to the writers.

“An alert postal service employee caught that, and there was no contact between this person and the child,” Maher said.

However, the program, dubbed Operation Santa, was temporarily shut down while new rules were developed to prevent members of the public from accessing a child’s personal information. Volunteers were already required to present valid photo identification and complete a form that includes a list of the letters being adopted.

This year, they will no longer receive the original letters. Instead, participating post offices will prepare a copy with all personal details redacted, including the child’s last name and address. Each letter will be assigned a numeric code, so that when a response is brought back to the post office, employees can locate the address and forward it to the child’s family.

“This is a very time-consuming and labor-intensive process,” Maher said. And it comes at a difficult time for the postal service. “Our volume is down; our revenue is down, and we have had to make cuts across the board,” he said.

Many post offices, including all those in the Greater Los Angeles area and Orange County, are opting out of Operation Santa to concentrate on their “core mission” of delivering the mail. But that does not mean letters to Santa will go unanswered.

“Our employees, who have for almost 100 years been answering these letters, will be stepping up to the plate and answering ‘Dear Santa’ letters in Los Angeles, Orange County and throughout Southern California,” Maher said.

Parents and guardians may also obtain a North Pole postmark for letters they write and receive from Santa. The letters must be placed in an envelope addressed to the child with first-class postage affixed, and the following return address: “From Santa, North Pole.”

The envelope should be sent to: North Pole Holiday Postmark Postmaster, 4141 Postmark Drive, Anchorage, AK 99530-9998.

Members of the public wishing to participate in Operation Santa can still do so at the following California post offices: Sacramento District Office, 545 Downtown Plaza, Suite 1031, Sacramento, CA 95814; San Francisco P&DC Office, 1300 Evans St., San Francisco, CA 94124; Bay-Valley District Office, 201 13th St., Oakland, CA 94612.

-- Alexandra Zavis

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