North Pole volunteers push to keep Santa mail service

Local "elves" try to counter postal service cut.

November 20, 2009 

A group of volunteer Santa Claus "elves" in Alaska's frigid Interior is determined to save a popular holiday letter service featuring the North Pole's most beloved icon.

The group is looking to counter a decision by the U.S. Postal Service to discontinue a 55-year-old program of volunteers in the Interior town responding to thousands of letters each year addressed to "Santa Claus, North Pole" each year.

Gabby Gaborik, chief elf among several dozen volunteers, said he met with Postal Service officials this week to come up with an alternative.

He's now working with local government officials to get "101 Santa Claus Lane" as an address for his group, Santa's Mailbag. That way, children will have a specific destination for their letters, allowing volunteers to run their own program separate from the Operation Santa effort the Postal Service has run for nearly a century around the country.

The Postal Service imposed strict new rules for how Operation Santa works after security issues arose in a similar program in Maryland last year. Those new rules are what knocked North Pole out of the program.

Gaborik believes his town's name gives Santa letters more cachet than other destinations.

"The city was founded on the Christmas theme," he said Thursday. "This is our identity. This is North Pole, Alaska."

The North Pole program was stymied by new rules after a postal worker in Maryland recognized a volunteer with the agency's Operation Santa program there as a registered sex offender. The agency viewed the scare as a reason to tighten security.

The Postal Service had already restricted its policies in such programs in 2006, including requiring volunteers to show identification. But the Maryland episode prompted more changes, such as barring volunteers from having access to children's last names and addresses. The Postal Service instead conceals that information from the volunteers, replacing it with a code.

The Postal Service decided this month to end the North Pole program, saying dealing with the tighter restrictions isn't feasible in Alaska. The agency considers the North Pole effort part of its giant Operation Santa program, although locals like to think of their program as unique.

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