For 67 years Globe Santa, a program of the Boston Globe Foundation, has provided gifts to children in need at holiday time. Please consider giving by phone, mail or online at globesanta.org.
The prompt, atop a plain green form, is short and to the point. “Please write a letter to Globe Santa,” it says. “Tell us why you need help.”
There are letters that take up whole pages; others come decorated with stickers or illustrations in colored pencil. Some are as short as haiku, direct, heartfelt, humbling to the reader. There are no easy answers.
“It’s that time of year again,” writes a single mother of two in Revere. “The holidays are supposed to be special and full of cheer. But for me I feel sad and worried.”
“I had to leave my job to care for my three children due to constant sickness and Covid,” writes a mother from North Attleborough. “I still struggle with the changes of our life.”
The letters launch the holiday season at Globe Santa, the Boston Globe Foundation program that provides toys, books, and games for children in Greater Boston who otherwise face the very real prospect of getting nothing at all.
They have been pouring in via snail mail since September. Every letter — last year there were 17,407, from 190 towns and cities — is read, processed, and answered by a dedicated Globe Santa team, ensuring that for as many as 30,000 children, from infancy to age 12, Santa really does, as the program’s motto says, “Deliver Joy.”
As the new Globe Santa editor, I have the privilege of reading these letters, handwritten on the green forms provided by the state’s Department of Transitional Assistance and by other approved nongovernmental organizations and charities. Parents and guardians, foster parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents share their stories and ask for help, not for themselves but for the children in their care. Sometimes the children themselves write, painstakingly printing in beginner’s English.
“This is the first time I have ever asked for help,” writes a mother of two from Lowell. “We are currently facing financial hardship due to my being disabled.”
Parents of four children from Brockton, more accustomed to giving then to receiving — “We have always been as generous as possible at Christmastime” — write about a year in which everything was upended, the upshot of disability, loss of the breadwinner’s job, salary, benefits, and all, no safety net. “Our financial situation suddenly, dramatically changed,” they write.
The letters have a way of mirroring the day’s headlines. In 2020 and 2021, the focus, unsurprisingly, was the pandemic. New to 2022 is the relentless rise in rent, food, heat, transport, all the costs of living. Whatever is driving the prices up — inflation, supply chain issues, corporate profiteering — it’s the vulnerable who are hit hardest. Meanwhile, federal support for children that sustained many families in the pandemic is falling away, while student loans and mortgages that had been on forbearance are coming due.
“It seems as though the more we work to meet the needs of the family it is never enough,” writes a Randolph mother of two sons. “Everything is expensive, the prices of food, clothes, and necessities are increasing and not giving me the room to afford the basics for my children.”
Laments another Lowell mother: “With rent, food, gas, etc. going up we are struggling just to keep a roof over our heads. We are behind in bills already.”
It’s an ancient practice, gift-giving to brighten the year’s darkest days, older than all the holidays celebrated today, but for struggling families facing stark 21st-century choices, even the simplest gifts are beyond their means.
“There are families who have found themselves in situations in which they can’t afford toys for their children. We have donors who want to help,” says William Connolly, Globe Santa’s long-serving executive director. “That’s what this program is all about. These kids matter. That’s the message. They matter. It really is that simple.”
Globe Santa donors have been showing kids they matter for 67 years. Most donations are from individuals and modest; the average is around $200 though amounts vary widely. (Impromptu donors have been known to stop Connolly in the street and empty their pockets of loose change.) It adds up: Last year more than 8,000 donors gave nearly $1.7 million. Donors give to honor loved ones, or they give in their memory; donors give because they once received.
“Globe Santa does what it does because it fills a need during the holiday,” Connolly says. “It isn’t any more than that, nor any less. It’s about bringing a smile to a child’s face on the 25th of the month of December.”
There’s something for the parents, too. “When I received this letter I got really happy till I cried,” writes the mother of three in Attleborough. “Not tears of sadness but tears of happiness and relief that you will still be coming to visit my kids. Thank you for taking this weight off my shoulder.”
The mother of a 4-year-old recently diagnosed with autism, herself chronically ill and frequently hospitalized, closes her letter from Burlington with a simple thank you, “for letting us know that we are not alone. Someone cares. People do care.”
Ellen Bartlett can be reached at email@example.com.