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Starry-eyed children writing letters to the jolly man at the North Pole this holiday season likely won't get a response from Santa Claus or his helpers.
The U.S. Postal Service is dropping a popular national program begun in 1954 in the small Alaska town of North Pole, where volunteers open and respond to thousands of letters addressed to Santa each year. Replies come with North Pole postmarks.
Last year, a postal worker in Maryland recognized an Operation Santa volunteer there as a registered sex offender. The postal worker interceded before the individual could answer a child's letter, but the Postal Service viewed the episode as a big enough scare to tighten rules in such programs nationwide.
A 15-year-old Ohio girl faces felony charges and may have to register as a sex offender for allegedly taking nude photos of herself and sending them to her high school classmates.
One can always kill flies with sledgehammers. It’s very effective. It will kill the fly. But in the process the damage that is done is far worse than the problem that it solves. To protect our kids we take sledgehammers to them and smash their lives.
Consider what happens today to the sexually inquisitive young. The intruding adult feels compelled to take this private matter and make it a case of the criminal law. The sledgehammer is called in. No matter that no violence or threats were used. No matter that both “victims” were very willing partners in crime.
A group of volunteer Santa Claus "elves" in Alaska's frigid interior is determined to save a popular holiday letter service featuring the North Pole's most beloved icon.
The group is looking to counter a decision by the U.S. Postal Service to discontinue a program begun in 1954 in the small town of North Pole, where volunteers open and respond to thousands of letters addressed to "Santa Claus, North Pole" each year.
Gabby Gaborik, chief elf among several dozen volunteers, said he met with Postal Service officials this week to come up with an alternative.
He's now working with local government officials to get "101 Santa Claus Lane" as an address for his group, Santa's Mailbag. That way children will have a specific destination for their letters, allowing volunteers to run their own program and bypass stringent new rules implemented by the Postal Service after security issues arose in a similar program in Maryland last year.
Gaborik believes his town's name gives the local effort more cachet than other destinations.
"The city was founded on the Christmas theme," he said Thursday. "This is our identity. This is North Pole, Alaska."
People in North Pole are incensed by the changes, likening the Postal Service to the Grinch trying to steal Christmas. The letter program is a revered holiday tradition in North Pole, where light posts are curved and striped like candy canes and streets have names like Kris Kringle Drive. Volunteers in the letter program even sign the response letters as Santa's elves and helpers.
North Pole Mayor Doug Isaacson also is outraged that locals just learned of the change.
"It's Grinchlike that the Postal Service never informed all the little elves before the fact," he said.
Another issue raising the hackles in the community of 2,100 is a second, separate change. Anchorage _ 260 miles to the south _ is processing mass quantities of out-of-state requests for North Pole postal cancellation marks on Christmas cards and packages. That work used to be done in Fairbanks, just 15 miles away.
Moody said as many as 800,000 items were processed last year, an overload Fairbanks is not equipped to handle. Anchorage is the only city in Alaska with the high-speed equipment necessary to do the job. Postal Service spokeswoman Sue Brennan said the move is a matter of resources and finances for the agency, which lost billions of dollars in the last fiscal year.
Santa Claus House, a North Pole store built like a Swiss chalet and chock full of all items Christmas, sells more than 100,000 letters from Santa, and one of the lures is the postmark.
Store operations manager Paul Brown also believes his business will be affected under changes to the volunteer Santa letter program because tens of thousands of letters are addressed to Santa Claus House, North Pole, Alaska. Those letters will still be forwarded to volunteers. Those intercepted by the Postal Service will probably eventually be shredded.
Alaska's congressional delegation has stepped in to find a solution. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Republican Rep. Don Young have sent letters to Postmaster General John Potter expressing their concerns over the changes.