NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Santa Claus is coming to town in a few days, and you can be one of his helpers, even if you don’t have a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer.
A block away from 34th Street is still home to Christmas miracles. Up the famous steps and beyond the Corinthian colonnades of the U.S. Post Office, thousands of letters pour in addressed to Santa.
Deep in the heart of the building is a secret room endorsed by Santa and run by the “chief elf,” Gail Branham.
For the past 107 years, “Operation Santa” has allowed the public to respond to children’s letters to Santa. Now, they’re scanned and uploaded to the U.S. Postal Service website, where anyone can anonymously adopt one.
“That’s a joy for me because I really get to see New York right here. Because there’s so many different stories,” Branham said.
One of the letters to Santa came from a child named Dominick.
It read in part, “Dear Santa, I hope you had a great summer … Nana says I have ADHD and can’t help being bad sometimes. I promise I will try. Nana hasn’t got a gift in a long while. I know she has no shoes, she says I come first. She has slippers but they have holes now. Love, Dominick.”
“You just never know,” Branham said, wiping her eyes with a handkerchief.
There’s a reason there are boxes of tissues on every table in the room.
“You cannot read these letters and not pull your heartstrings. You can’t,” said Gene Matthews with the Ironworkers Local 580.
Every year, Matthews and the Ironworkers Local 580 volunteer to adopt some letters. This year, they’ll fulfill more than 60.
“Think about some kid’s life. If for one day in his life, he’s not worried about the rent or Mom can’t pay the gas bill and he don’t have what everybody else has. We get letters from people in shelters. They don’t have a home, and all they’re looking for is a pair of boots and a jacket. How could the kid not get a box of toys for that?” Matthews said.
Entering the holiday bustle of New York City, the Ironworkers go shopping.
This year, they raised $15,000 — or about $200 worth of toys for each letters.
Dominick may have wanted slippers for his Nana, but he’s also getting some toys.
“I get more out of this than they do, I really do,” Matthews said. “It just makes me feel good for doing it. Think about what one cup of coffee less a week can do for some kid’s life.”
“Operation Santa” will see about 40,000 letters this year, and neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night will stop Santa’s helpers from making someone’s Christmas special.
Just like Santa’s sack, their bags are full of cheer.
“I get to make people happy for the holidays. I know that it’s making people feel joy and hope. When this person gets this gift, they’re gonna know that there’s someone out there that heard their story and that they care about them,” Branham said.