Postal Service’s Operation Santa seeking ‘elves’ to help fulfill children’s Christmas wishes

A letter from Rebecca in Florida on the U.S. Postal Service's Operation Santa website
A letter from Rebecca in Florida on the U.S. Postal Service’s Operation Santa website asks for a TV set, since all of her family’s things were destroyed in Hurricane Ian.

Last year, nearly 25,000 children submitted letters to Santa Claus, including about 3,000 in California


Eight-year-old Zaerein of Indiana has asked Santa Claus this year for an electric dirt bike and some PS4 video games. Isaiah of Louisiana is hoping for a hoverboard for himself and a burrito blanket for his little brother. Ten-year-old Mikeira of Tennessee hopes Santa will see past her anger issues and bring her an iPad. And a boy named Ian in Colorado has shot for the moon, hoping for both Tesla and Lamborghini automobiles.

But the gift lists that Mayra Elena-Hernandez of San Diego likes best when she grants wishes through the U.S. Postal Service’s Operation Santa program offer her creative freedom to select gifts she thinks children will most enjoy. Her favorite letter came from an 11-year-old California girl named Jacqueline, who wanted nothing for herself but hoped that Santa would bring something special for her 7-year-old sister.

“Sometimes you just come across a letter that speaks to you. I try to give what I think I would have wanted when I was a kid,” said Elena-Hernandez, who works in the Postal Service’s Operation Santa program in San Diego. “Whenever children mention siblings I buy gifts that they can play with together. So I bought some travel board games and some dolls and doll clothes.”

This year marks the 110th anniversary of the Postal Service’s Operation Santa Program. In 1912, U.S. Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock launched the program and encouraged regional postmasters to open up letters addressed to Santa Claus and do what they could to respond to these letters. By the 1940s, the general public was invited to join the postal workers in adopting children’s wishes. In 2017, the program was introduced in a digital format in New York. The following year it expanded to six more cities, including San Diego, and in 2020 — when the pandemic made shopping difficult and many Americans were out of work — the program went national at

From 2018 to 2021, the number of Santa letters submitted to the online program rose from 3,700 to more than 25,000. Last year, more than 21,000 of those wishes were adopted nationwide, including about 3,000 in California. The 2022 Operation Santa program kicked off on Monday and continues through Dec. 19. Children can submit their wish lists online or write letters and mail them to “Santa Claus, 123 Elf Road, North Pole 88888.” Instructions for how to write wish lists and for adoptive “elves” who’d like to fulfill wish lists on behalf of Santa can be found on the website.

Duke Gonzales, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service for the Hawaii and San Diego regions, said the letters received over the years have run the gamut.

“Most letters request classic items such as toys, sports equipment and electronics. But others ask for more basic things, such as shoes, clothing and bedding. And, over the years we have received some touching letters requesting baby brothers and sisters, a place to sleep out of the elements, or better health for an ill relative,” Gonzales said. “Every wish matters and is worth fulfilling when what’s at stake is a child’s happiness and belief on Santa.”

Elena-Hernandez said that in just the first hours of this year’s program on Monday, more than 2,500 wishes were adopted nationwide, including 143 from California children. Some of the wishes she remembers seeing are for video game systems, clothing and school uniforms.

Besides serving as a spokesperson for San Diego County’s Operation Santa program, Elena-Hernandez said she enjoys picking her own wish list to fulfill each year, like Jacqueline’s letter. This year she hopes to get her boyfriend to adopt a letter, as well, so it can become their annual holiday tradition.

“I come from a very large family. Too many times I’ve seen kids in my family opening gifts that they don’t need. With this platform I know I’m making a difference in a child’s life. They will remember when they wrote to Santa, and even if they didn’t ask for anything specific, they got something. To keep that innocence and that holiday magic is what the holiday spirit is all about,” she said.