Every December, thousands of letters to the North Pole pile up inside the grand and mostly vacant Farley Post Office building on Eighth Avenue, where they wait for generous New Yorkers to answer their wishes. Thanks to the grim economy, this year's batch was already guaranteed to be particularly wrenching: Pleas for basics, especially clothing in tiny sizes, greatly outnumber the requests for toys. But other depressing modern realities have intruded as well, and now the program — one of the most authentically New York expressions of holiday goodwill — is becoming too costly to maintain across the five boroughs.
Last year the Postal Service abruptly suspended the program after a registered sex offender in Maryland "adopted" one of the children's letters. To increase privacy and security, postal workers now deliver the gifts; they also black out surnames, addresses, and any other identifying details. The wishes for Spider-Man action figures and princess-doll sets are still written in the wobbly scrawl of small children, but when their sentiments are interspersed with redacting slashes of ink, the letters look more like Guantánamo documents.
The Postal Service, meanwhile, has a a deficit of $7 billion, which has forced it to shed thousands of employees through early retirement buyouts and to consider shutting down two days a week. And the increased labor involved in blotting out the Santa letters and delivering the gifts is one reason the central post offices in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island decided to skip the program this year.
Manhattan and the Bronx supply plenty of heartbreak and hope all by themselves, however. Carolina, a single mom, tells Santa she's thrilled to have just moved into her first apartment after a year living in a shelter with her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter; her next goal is to find a job, a task that's even tougher when you're still something of a kid yourself: Carolina is 20. Her daughter, Alexandra, "loves dresses and skirts in all shades of pink, purple, light blue, and green." Thousands of other kids write the letters themselves, asking for snow boots and a winter coat — and they don't care about the color, as long as they can stay warm.
Winter and poverty aren't going away, even if technology eventually kills the postal service — and there are no shortage of ways to be charitable. But should this tradition end, be it because of degenerates or debt, "Texts to Santa" somehow won't have the same weight as holding a needy child's penciled wish list in your hand.