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Postal Elf : 'Dear Santa' Letters Are Answered

December 22, 1987|MICHAEL GRANBERRY | Times Staff Writer

Dearest Santa,

I want a Nintendo Cartridge for Christmas. I tried to get control of myself all the time. One more thing Santa I want about 10 gold fishes. My Dad went out to sea, and on Christmas he will not be here. So can you keep him safe, and I want to wish him a Merry Chritmas.

Love,

Malvin Robles

Dear,Santa Claus

I'm realy not going to ask for something this year because I don't know what to ask for. by the way i'm sorry about last year for being too greedy about what I asked you for last year no hard feelings ok.

your friend,

Jimmy

Terry Ponce describes herself as an elf.

She's short but not elfishly short, with blond hair, hazel eyes and a friendly, Christmasy manner. She even dresses like Christmas, donning a red blouse and white pants.

Ponce spends all day answering mail addressed to Santa Claus.

"I'm one of his helpers," she said.

Most of the letters--Ponce answers 2,000 to 3,000 a year--are addressed to Santa Claus, North Pole. All letters addressed that way and mailed within the county end up on Ponce's desk at the central Post Office on Midway Drive.

Her usual job is "information specialist," answering questions about ZIP codes, postal rates, etc. But starting Dec. 1 for each of the last two years, Ponce has turned her attention to dipping into Santa's ever-fattening mailbag. The four years before assuming her elfly duties, colleague Gary Castle handled the chore. And before that? The letters just didn't get answered.

Most post offices answer letters to Santa, Ponce said, but the U.S. Postal Service carries no formal policy. She said each individual city handles the letters differently; many don't answer them at all.

Ponce, 40, finds herself being moved by the letters. Some bring on laughter, others tears. Some she ponders deep into the night. An amateur sociologist could spend hours theorizing over the content of such missives.

"This year, the letters weren't that sad, but last year, they were very sad," said Ponce, who has two children and two stepchildren, all between the ages of 19 and 22. "The sad ones are about parents breaking up and can Santa please help them get back together. The kids are worried. Money problems are another concern.

"I would have thought this year's would be sad, considering the stock market and all. Maybe San Diego has more jobs than the rest of the country.

"Last year, the letters that weren't sad were demanding. Some kids wanted everything. I guess you can't blame them for that, though. TV teaches them to want everything. I'm the same way. As soon as the commercials start up around Nov. 1, we start getting an avalanche of letters."

The first of the letters, though, start coming as early as March. Some are in Spanish, and some don't carry return addresses. Those are the ones that "break my heart," Ponce said. The Post Office has no way to respond to such letters.

All other kids get back a form letter, sometimes with a handwritten postscript from Ponce. That usually comes if the child mails in a picture or special request. Some kids send in money, but Ponce returns it in a separate letter addressed to the parents.

Some Want It All

Some kids do make extravagant requests, as though Santa has nothing better to do than rustle up everything they crave. One little guy asked for 34 presents, including a radar ball, Nerf indoor golf, space turbo, electronic battleship, Thunder Road, guitar and a 25-pack of Marvel Comics.

Ponce said that most of the kids who write are between the ages of 4 and 10. The more skeptical letters, voicing doubts about Santa's existence, come from the 8- to 10-year-olds.

Some kids are altruistic to the point of selflessness.

"Some write in asking Santa to give money to the poor," Ponce said. "They ask for nothing else."

Ponce got one recently, though, from a kid who asked for "weed" and drew a picture of a marijuana plant. "I wrote back telling him Santa says no to drugs," she said.

If Ponce senses that a family needs help, she turns the letter over to local process server Tony Snesko.

"He tries to take care of the child's or the family's needs," Ponce said, "by gathering up food, clothing, whatever. He actually calls us asking for letters, and we give 'em to him."

Most of the letters leave Ponce with a satisfied smile, a chuckle, a lingering memory.

The request made recently by 10-year-old Sonia Montano is not uncommon:

"Try to give me what I want or I won't believe in you! It can be a mirical (sic) for me!"

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