'Elves' at Raleigh post office help turn it into North Pole substation

sgilman@newsobserver.comDecember 19, 2013 

  • Santa’s address

    North Pole Substation

    P.O. Box 9995

    Raleigh, NC 27676

— In a back room in a post office off Westgate Road, two elves are running a North Pole substation to ensure that St. Nicholas receives all the letters that North Carolina children write to him.

“We’re Santa’s helpers that open the letters and sort them out, so that they can make it on their way to the North Pole,” said Sherry McGowan, a customer relations coordinator for the postal service.

This is McGowan’s 25th year as head elf of the Raleigh site of the U.S. Postal Service’s Letters to Santa program. She and assistant elf Jeffrey Moore do their best to make sure each one gets a response.

Each year, the North Pole Substation receives between 5,000 and 7,500 letters forwarded by other post offices, mostly from the Triangle and the northeastern part of the state. McGowan said she even receives letters from outside North Carolina.

“We receive them from all over,” she said. “We don’t turn any addresses away. We make sure anything is answered if it has a return address on it.”

When the numbers get too high for McGowan and Moore to manage, Girl Scout Teen Troop 1150 in Raleigh pitches in to address envelopes. The 70 girls ages 12 to 17 sit down once a year to process about 3,000 letters.

“It’s one big party,” troop leader Donna Crawford said.

The handwritten letters contain drawings of Santa Claus, questions about Mrs. Claus, lists of Christmas wishes and, sometimes, honest confessions of being “bad.”

One letter began, “Dear Santa I have ben a little bad This year. I hope you forgive me for all the bad Things I have don. and I Will try to be good by sharing, being nice, not calling names and lisining to my parents and helping. What I want for crismis is ...”

Another letter simply said, “Dear Santa I want that,” and an arrow penciled down to a magazine clipping of lime green DC Shoes sneakers. “make shur it’s size 4/5 Please,” it concluded.

The children receive a form letter back from Santa, with their name handwritten at the top and a personal note at the bottom thanking them for their letters and any gifts they enclosed. In addition to mentioning his elves and the toy shop, Santa tells the children that the real joy of Christmas comes from spending time with family and friends and spreading happiness, and reminds them to be in bed early on Christmas Eve.

More than 4,300 letters have arrived so far, McGowan said.

“It has been hundreds by the day,” she said.

One challenge is that many don’t have return addresses – about 1,000 this year. Sometimes, if mail carriers such as Moore spot a Santa letter on their route with no return address, they will jot it down.

“It makes it easier for Santa to respond back to the child,” Moore said.

One letter this year had a return address, but it was so hard to read that Moore and McGowan had to consult the white pages to verify the address and even called the parents to see whether their child had written to Santa.

“We don’t just put them aside,” McGowan said. “These are our important customers this time of year.”

Children mostly request iPads, iPhones and American Girl dolls. McGowan said she loves that children still are mailing handwritten letters, something that adds a personal touch an email cannot replace.

“There’s just something special about a letter,” she said.

The bulk of children’s letters to Santa arrive in December, but they continue to trickle in throughout the year. McGowan said the substation also receives several hundred thank-you notes in January and February from children who received replies from Santa.

Gilman: 919-829-8955

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