By John Montone, 1010 WINS
NEW YORK (1010 WINS) — The red Schwinn’s fenders were so shiny they reflected the lights on our Christmas tree. I was 9 years old, and that bicycle represented freedom to me.
It would take me to parks and playgrounds, to newspaper stores to pick up baseball cards and oh, yeah — to confession on Saturday afternoons. But at least I could make a quick get-away once that was over.
Some children never get a Christmas memory like that.
On Monday I stopped by the Farley post office on 33rd and 8th and listened as the United States Postal Service’s “Chief Elf,” Pete Fontana read letters from children and parents that came addressed to “Santa Claus, The North Pole.”
Fulfilling the wishes of as many letter writers as possible is the goal of “Operation Santa.” A little girl wrote, “Dear Santa, people are saying you are not real, but they are wrong.” She asked for an I-Pad for Christmas, “…so I can do my homework. Your loving friend, Monay.”
Henry is an older boy who wrote on behalf of his three younger brothers. He asked Santa for sheets for their beds, “…because my mother can’t afford them.” Fontana paused while reading Henry’s letter. “That’s when you know they’re really poor,” he told me, “When they ask for clothes and bed sheets, not toys.”
“Dear Santa, my name is Jorge. I’m 9 years old,” began another letter. “I would love games for a Wii system and sneakers, size 4 ½. And if you have a little present for my mommy and daddy. Thank you so much and God bless you.”
Many of the letters that reach “Operation Santa,” come, not from little boys and girls, but from single mothers. Nerquitta is one of them. She asked for clothes, shoes and toys for her three children. She ended her letter, “My children never really had a Christmas. I just want to see them smile and be happy for one Christmas day. Please, Santa.”
Now I’m a cynical guy by nature and profession. I’ve reported on enough scammers, small time and Bernie Madoff, so that even as I sifted through some of these heart-wrenching pleas for help, I couldn’t help picturing some slime balls cranking out computer-generated… “Dear Santa, my name is…fill in the blank….and I would like…fill in the blank….because my mommy and daddy have no jobs. Thank you so much Santa.”
“Hey, Jimmy. I need two dozen from a seven year old girl whose father just abandoned her. Ask for a few Barbie dolls with accessories and have ‘em sent to that warehouse in Kearny. We‘re running low.”
A conspiracy of crooks profiting on the kindness of strangers.
Look, maybe there is a little of that going on, but after watching Pete Fontana — born and bred in Brooklyn — well-up while reading the letters, my cynicism melted away. I’ve looked at the bad hand-writing and tortured grammar. These letters aren’t fugazys, they’re real. People are hurting — children and parents.
And so like Mr. Chief Elf, I will err on the side of good will and believe, believe in the desperate hopes of single moms who yearn to see smiling faces on their children on Christmas morning and believe in the sugar plum dreams of 9year olds who have never woken up to find a new bicycle next to their Christmas tree. These families are counting on the generosity of people like you, who listen to 1010 WINS and read “Radio Free Montone.” It’s so simple and so gratifying.
Take a trip to the Farley post office, produce a valid I.D., begin reading and find a child worthy of your kindness.
Oh, and bring along some tissues.