Samantha Arsenault packed a dozen festively wrapped gifts into a large cardboard box at the US postal facility next to South Station on Monday.
The 27-year-old from Chelsea said she had gone through hundreds of Operation Santa letters a few weeks ago, and stumbled upon one written by a little boy who asked for a few small things: a paint set for himself, and a guitar for his baby sister.
So off to the store she went. Fifteen gifts and $200 later, she walked out with much more than the original request.
“It feels awesome,” Arsenault, a Harvard University employee, said. “These people will go to bed not knowing that they have anything for Christmas, and then they will wake up with a gift.”
Arsenault is one of hundreds of people who participated this year in Operation Santa, which is operated out of the postal facility at Fort Point Channel. The program, which has been running for a century in the Boston area, connects families who are seeing hard times with strangers who want to brighten their holidays, said Mike Powers, the US Postal Service district manager for Greater Boston.
In the back room of the postal facility Monday, four manila folders full of letters seeking help were laid across a desk. People typically write in when they can’t afford presents because of unemployment, sickness, or a faltering economy, Powers said.
“Dear Santa, I know you get a million letters asking 4 help, but this time I am having a real hard time with work,” a single mother named Vanessa wrote in one letter. “Please help me make my two princesses happy this year because they deserve it.”
Some families requested toys for their children, such as Spider-Man figurines and Xboxes; others asked for basic necessities, such as clothes.
Powers said donors had picked up more than 500 of the letters since last month. The donors buy the gifts and then bring them into the postal facility, which sends them to the families. The donors and the families remain anonymous to each other.
“There are so many people that are in need and, at the same time, there’s many great people who help, out of the greatness and good will of who they are,” Powers said.
The donation period ended Monday, and although about half of the letters were not picked up by the early afternoon, Powers said, sometimes there is a surge of donors toward the end.
Although many of the letters come from parents and other adult family members, a number come from the children themselves. Several of the letters, written with innocence and faith, were taped to the wall.
“Dear Santa,” a little girl named Emily wrote in pink marker. “I’ve tryed [sic] to be Super Good this year. thank-you for the gifts all these years. this year I would like .... ALL of Isabelle the american girl doll’s stuff! Please.”
Other children saw beyond themselves.
“Dear Santa, Every year my cat Blaze does not get a gift,” another little girl wrote. “I was hoping you can give her something that she will like.”
“Do what you can,” she added. “I will not be sad if you don’t, Saint nick. Tell Mrs. Claus I said hi.”