"Dear Santa" Campaign Continues in Chicago

Family's identifying information to be withheld from volunteers

By BJ Lutz and Charlie Wojciechowski
|  Thursday, Nov 19, 2009  |  Updated 6:44 PM CDT
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A change this year hopes to keep Chicago's version of the popular Operation Santa program safe for children.

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To protect children from sexual predators, the United States Postal Service is making changes this year to Operation Santa, the decades-old holiday program in which volunteers reply to childrens' letters to Santa.

Operation Santa was suspended nationwide last year after authorities discovered a convicted sex offender in Maryland was among the volunteers.

But beginning this year, big city post offices around the country, including some in Chicago, will prevent volunteers from receiving childrens' handwritten letters and home addresses.

"The idea is to keep kids safe and to protect their privacy," said Mark Reynolds, the spokesperson for the USPS' Chicago offices.

Instead of the volunteers getting the child's original letter with the family's address, they'll get a photo copy with the personal information blacked out.

The volunteers will then bring the presents they bought back to the post office where they will pay for the postage to have them sent to the recipient.

Ironically, the program won't return to service in North Pole, Alaska, where it began.

The Postal service will no longer ship Santa letters to Fairbanks to get a "North Pole" postmark.  Fairbanks is 14 miles from the Christmas-themed town of North Pole.

Instead, letters will be postmarked in Achorage, which is more than 200 miles away.

Anchorage-based agency spokeswoman Pamela Moody said with as many as 800,000 items processed last year, Fairbanks is not equipped to handle the overload. Anchorage is the only city in Alaska with the high-speed equipment necessary to do the job without delay, the Associated Press reported.

"The postal service has had a very difficult year in 2009. We're doing a lot of measures to make our operations more efficient and leaner and financially solvent," Reynolds said.

The Chicago program is already being organized with a team of two dozen volunteers, and the postal service says it should be up and running by Nov. 30.

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