Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

School Students Answer “Dear Santa” Letters From Needy Children


By: Jahkedda Akbar and Ariel Merrick, Common Cents Interns

“We have $500 to buy items for needy families,” fifth grade students from PS 163 in Manhattan explained as they rode the subway to the 34th Street Post Office. They headed there, led by Sue Knaster, the school’s Math Coach, as part of a “Dear Santa” Neighborhood Service project they organized to help families during the holidays. The students were excited to help, but knew they would have a difficult task ahead: they could only choose 3 families to support.

At the Post Office, the students headed right to the Santa Station — a section of the post office where all of the “Dear Santa” letters are kept during the holidays – and gathered around a long table. Dear Santa is a national program run by the United States Postal Service each year to help families in need during the holiday season. Children and parents write letters and then local donors purchase items they request. This year, the students at PS 163 decided to be the local donors and help brighten the holidays.  

At the post office, students were given a batch of Dear Santa letters to consider. One student commented, “I don’t know how many of these I can read. It’s so sad.” They were shocked to find families that did not have basic necessities like clothing. After reading several letters, each student selected at least one family they wanted to help.

One-by-one, students spoke on behalf of the letter they selected. Then, they debated which letters should be selected. One student, Melanie, remembers agreeing to some basic criteria, “We didn’t choose any families that wanted electronics or all toys. We focused on people who needed clothes, shoes and jackets.” In addition, they felt strongest about families with one parent and more than one child.

After two hours the group decided to help three families and set off to buy the items on the list. Together, the students walked to a local clothing store, split into groups – one for each family – and scoured for the best deals and the items they thought were the nicest – they wanted each family to have a big Christmas with lots of gifts. Each group had $100 to spend; one student asked, “If we don’t go over $100, can we buy something for the mother too.” Another student followed by asking if she could contribute her own money if they needed more.

After the shopping was complete, the students returned to school to wrap the gifts and prepare them for Christmas morning. By the end of the day, it was clear that not only would these families have a happier Christmas, but the students would as well.

Donate to Operation Letters To Santa - Help us answer more "Dear Santa" letters from needy children this ChristmasVisit Operation Letter To Santa

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