Post Office rules force Santa's helper into retirement
By Regina Ford email@example.com | Posted: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 9:24 am
Jackie DeHart still believes in Santa and for more than 24 years she’s worked as Santa’s helper, answering all the letters addressed to Old St. Nick that Santa himself couldn’t get to with his busy schedule.
That all ended last week when she received a phone call from the Green Valley Post Office informing her that letters addressed to Santa Claus would no longer be delivered to her mailbox. It was the end of a nine-year tradition.
“It’s all about the security and protection of the children and that’s a priority,” says Postal Service spokesman Robert Soler, adding that the USPS has its own Letters to Santa program.
Hundreds of thousands of children send letters to “Santa Claus, North Pole” every year, according to the USPS. Postal “elves” go through the letters and separate those that demonstrate serious need.
DeHart, who just celebrated her 87th birthday, understands the security issue but still feels “a great loss.”
“It’s a different world these days,” she says. “That doesn’t mean people should give up on Santa in their hearts. They still need to write to him.”
Since the late 1980s, Jackie and her late husband, Ted — Santa’s twin if there ever was one — have been answering children’s letters to Santa with the blessing of the U.S. Postal Service.
Before moving to Green Valley in 2003, the DeHarts lived in Alamogordo, N.M., where both worked for the government.
“For years, Ted dressed up every year like Santa in Alamogordo, visiting the neighborhood kids and the shopping mall. He even grew the Santa beard and was even recognized in the summer,” Jackie recalls. “He was well-known as Santa all around town.”
Ted was also a Shriner, Jackie says, and a fellow Shriner who worked for the post office in Alamogordo recruited him to help answer the letters one year.
Jackie says she agreed to pitch in, and after putting notices in the local newspaper, the letters to Santa started pouring in.
“All the letters that were addressed to Santa Claus in Alamogordo were delivered right to our house, just like they were doing here in Green Valley and Sahuarita for all these years,” she says.
After moving to Green Valley, the DeHarts went to the Sahuarita and Green Valley post offices to ask if letters sent to Santa could be forwarded to them so they could reply on behalf of the jolly old man in the red suit.
So the DeHarts became the local Mr. and Mrs. Claus, volunteering every year to answer children’s letters, buying their own seasonal stationary and stamps. The post office also delivered letters to Jackie addressed to Santa that had no postage.
“That’s how committed we all were back then to make the children happy,” Jackie says.
Each year in Green Valley the DeHarts would receive about 35 letters — and often many more.
When Ted passed away in 2007, Jackie carried on, advertising for Santa, encouraging children to write to him and answering the letters herself.
“It was nothing but pleasure and my way of remembering Ted,” Jackie says. “I sat down and answered every letter with its own unique message.”
Through the years, Jackie has heard from hundreds of children with their wish lists. Some ask for one gift, others request “a whole lot.”
One letter sticks in her mind.
“A teenage girl wrote to Santa a couple of years ago and said she needed help because her younger brother stopped believing,” Jackie says. “I wrote back and told her that she needed to talk to him because there are so many people who do not believe in Santa Claus and it’s a shame, because Santa is in everybody’s heart. I known he’s in mine. This is what I’ll miss the most.”
What will Jackie do for the Christmas holidays now?
“I’m going to continue to be a bell ringer for the Salvation Army,” she says. “I can still wear my Mrs. Claus outfit and I will still be helping people.”