Those looking to help Santa out this season can take part in the U.S. Postal Service’s Operation Santa letter adoption program.
USPS Operation Santa relies solely on random acts of kindness and the generosity of strangers. The program is 110 years old this year. It allows people to help children and families have a magical holiday when they otherwise may not.
In 1912, Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock authorized local postmasters to allow employees and citizens to respond to letters addressed to Santa Claus and the program came to be known as Operation Santa.
In the 1940s, mail volume increased to the point where the Post Office Department invited charitable organizations and corporations to participate for philanthropic purposes —providing written responses and small gifts.
Over the years, the program took on a life of its own. And today cities around the country have established successful programs with recognized charitable organizations, major corporations, local businesses and Postal Service employees, making a major difference in the lives of the children coast to coast.
In 2017, work on the digital USPS Operation Santa program began. The pilot test occurred in New York City. Only letters from NYC populated the site and adopters were required to be within proximity of the James A. Farley Post Office in Manhattan because packages had to be shipped from that facility. Puerto Rico was included after the hurricanes impacted the island and its residents that year. Packages for both destinations had to be shipped from the Farley building.
In 2018, the Postal Service expanded the 2017 pilot test to include additional locations (Austin, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, Washington DC – and Puerto Rico and Chico, CA (site of major wildfires that year). Letters from those locations populated the website and only people in those locations could adopt them. Packages had to be shipped from one designated post office in each location.
In 2019, the digital program expanded further. Letters from 17 locations populated the website and anyone in the country could adopt them. Packages could be shipped from more than 19,000 post offices across the country.
In 2020, the program went nationwide. Letters were accepted from every location and could be adopted by anyone. The letters had to be addressed to Santa’s official US Postal Service address: 123 ELF ROAD, NORTH POLE 88888. Packages could be shipped from 19,000 post offices around the country.
The goal for the future is, and has always been, to help more children and families in need have a happy holiday when they otherwise may not — one letter to Santa at a time.
Since Sep. 15, the Postal Service has been receiving letters from all across the country and delivering them to Santa’s workshop at 123 Elf Road, North Pole, 88888. Letters sent with accurate postage and complete return addresses have been posted on USPSOperationSanta.com, and customers can begin reading and adopting them.
Instructions for letter adopters
- Visit USPSOperationSanta.com, click on the registration link and follow the prompts to register and have your identity verified.
- If potential adopters are unable to get their ID verified online, they will be provided a code and given instructions on how to get verified in person at a local Post Office location. Once verified, the adopter will receive a welcome email with detailed information on how to participate in the program.
- Registered adopters can read letters at USPSOperationSanta.com and choose one to fulfill. Once a letter is chosen, adopters must follow the directions they received in their welcome email to ship gifts.
- Packages must be shipped via Priority Mail service, but gifts do not need to be in Priority Mail- branded boxes.
- The last day to adopt letters is Dec. 19, which coincides with the Priority Mail suggested deadline.
- Letter adopters are responsible for postage fees to ship the gift packages.
Tips for reducing shipping costs
Postage to ship gifts is based on size, weight and distance. Smaller, lighter packages shipped in-state or to an adjacent state will be the less expensive shipping option. Here are some tips:
- Use Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes, free at your local Post Office. Take a box when shopping and only purchase items that can fit in the box.
- Adopt a letter from your state, or a nearby state.
- Look at the dimensions of the gift very carefully, paying special attention to size and weight
- Consider a gift card instead of purchasing larger, heavier items. Gift cards need to be sent in a Priority Mail envelope, 4-by-6 or larger, to accommodate the shipping label.
Information for letter writers:
- Letters must include a first and last name and a clear, legible, complete return address, including apartment number, if applicable.
- Envelopes must contain a First-Class Mail Forever stamp — or other First-Class Mail stamps that equal 60-cents in postage. See the online graphic for more information.
- Letters can only be sent via First-Class Mail service in small, business-size or greeting card-size envelopes. They cannot be sent using Priority Mail service.
- Letters must be postmarked by Dec. 12.
- There is no guarantee that letters submitted to the program will be adopted.