LIANE HANSEN, host:

The U.S. Postal Service handles about a million letters to Santa Claus every year around this time. It's been answering Santa's mail for 95 years. Not only that, the Post Office goes a step further. It organizes volunteers who take it upon themselves to help Santa grant the Yuletide wishes of needy children.

Reporter Gloria Hillard dropped in at a U.S. Postal distribution center in Southern California. She has this update on Operation Santa 2007.

GLORIA HILLARD: By Christmas Eve, thousands of letters with bold penmanship in crayon, felt pen and number two pencil will arrive here. And they all begin, Dear Santa.

Ms. STACIA CRANE (Spokeswoman, U.S. Postal Service): (Reading) I've been very good this year. Santa, I want to meet you - I think that's meet you.

HILLARD: U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Stacia Crane says every year the letters start arriving in full force as soon as the first Christmas special hits the air, and this year…

Ms. CRANE: There are quite a few this year that are writing for warm clothes, simple blankets and beds - things of that nature. And then, of course, they're writing to Santa so they're asking for the big items, too, that every child has as far as they're concerned.

HILLARD: Helping to sort out the three-page wish lists for Nintendo games and iPhones from the more deserving and needy children are community volunteers.

(Soundbite of unfolding paper)

HILLARD: Tiny fingers had intricately folded these letters. It was volunteers Kendra Watkins and Josh Heller's job to patiently unfold them.

(Soundbite of unfolding paper)

Ms. KENDRA WATKINS (Volunteer, U.S. Postal Service): (Reading) Dear Santa Claus, this year my family was good. I hope you can find my address because my mom said that sometimes you don't make it to the houses because you can't find the address. I love you so much, but if you come to my house…

Mr. JOSH HELLER (Volunteer, U.S. Postal Service): Hear is one: I really don't want nothing than seeing my mom happy for once in her life. It's really sad to see my mom carry bags and walk so much. I know you understand, Santa. You're my only hope.

HILLARD: Letters like these are put in folders so people like Karen and Tom Scott can choose a family to help. They said they were shopping for nine grandchildren this year and figured they might as well buy a few more toys.

Ms. KAREN SCOTT (Volunteer, U.S. Postal Service): And we're just going over to some of the letters to see what the children want and see what - how Santa can help.

Mr. TOM SCOTT (Volunteer, U.S. Postal Service): How are you, Mrs. Claus, the eves…

Ms. SCOTT: The elves.

Mr. SCOTT: The elves and your reindeers? I'm writing to ask for presents for my family and me. My mom needs a baby stroller for my brother and my dad needs…

HILLARD: By the time they were finished that they had chosen two families to adopt.

Ms. SCOTT: We'll be shopping and wrapping and Santa's helper.

HILLARD: And then they'll personally deliver them on Christmas Eve day. Rick Hernandez came in to adopt one family and left with four letters, including this one, read by volunteer Kendra Watkins.

Ms. WATKINS: (Reading) My name is Samantha. I am 9 years old. I don't think we are going to be getting Christmas this year.

HILLARD: When I caught up with Hernandez a couple of days later, he and his girlfriend, in Santa hats, were making their first delivery.

(Soundbite of knock)

Mr. RICK HERNANDEZ: Hello.

BIANCA: Hi.

Mr. HERNANDEZ: Are you Samantha?

BIANCA: I'm Bianca.

Mr. HERNANDEZ: Bianca, hi. We're Santa's helpers.

HILLARD: The two sisters, Bianca and Samantha, were speechless and wide-eyed. And within a matter of seconds, their arms were stacked high with presents.

Unidentified Woman: Have a nice holiday.

BIANCA and SAMANTHA: Thank you.

Mr. HERNANDEZ: (Unintelligible) Thank you.

Unidentified Woman #2: Gracias.

BIANCA: Thank you.

Unidentified Woman #2: (Speaking in Spanish).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HERNANDEZ: Well, take care. All right. Be safe.

Unidentified Woman #2: Gracias.

Mr. HERNANDEZ: Have a good Christmas.

HILLARD: Looking back, the girls were steadfast and smiling, and their mother was crying.

Mr. HERNANDEZ: Every kid should have that experience, every kid.

HILLARD: They had three more deliveries to make this night. In the back of the small pickup truck secured by a tarp and a rope were dozens of presents.

Mr. HERNANDEZ: So have a great Christmas.

BIANCA: Thank you. Bye.

HILLARD: For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.

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