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The power of the pencil

Children write to Globe Santa

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 letter from Lowell, printed carefully in purple ink, is practical in nature, unadorned by sentiment. Its writer is 9 years old.

“I live with my grandparents,” she writes. “They help take care of me because my dad lives far far away and my mom lives somewhere else.” They care for her brother, who is two years older — this letter is on his behalf, too. There’s a problem she wants to share.


“My grandparents are getting old,” she says. “That is why we need help. I know grandma don’t have a lot of money to buy toys, that’s why I don’t want to ask her to buy anything for me. Because I know she needs it more.”

Thank you, she closes. She has drawn hearts around her name.

Every year, thousands of letters pour into the headquarters of Globe Santa, the Boston Globe Foundation program that delivers books and toys to children in need, often in desperate need, over the holidays. While most of the letters are composed by adults on behalf of children in their care, sometimes the roles are reversed and it’s the children who write.

“I’m nice and friendly!” an 8-year-old boy practically shouts from Haverhill in blocky cheerful print. The rest of the form is in Spanish, but his letter is in enthusiastic English. It’s not uncommon for children to read, write, and interpret for relatives who may lack the necessary language skills. The children may lack the skills, too, but they dive in and write anyway.

“Our beloved dad had pass away a year ago due to the cancer, so me and my mom have to work and take turn taking care of my little brother,” opens a letter from Quincy. Too old for Globe Santa’s largesse himself, the “big brother” is writing to advocate for his sibling. “He is an energetic boy but sometimes some topics are unavoidable. He ask where dad go? We answer dad is in heaven. He is only six years old, so he doesn’t know much. I want him to have a good childhood so therefore I’m here to ask for your help and kindness.”


The letters are windows, glimpses of lives disrupted, and sometimes devastated, by death, dislocation, domestic violence, by lost jobs and illness. Last year there were more than 17,000 letters, written by or on behalf of more than 30,000 children. Thanks to the generosity of Globe Santa’s donors — nearly 8,000 donors, who last year gave a total of nearly $1.7 million — the letters are answered, with parcels containing quality gifts and the message, clear if unspoken, that the children matter.

Some of the letters follow the format of the old-fashioned “letters to Santa” that date back to the 19th century — assurances from children that they really were very good all year, plus a small list. But not many. Most ask simply to be remembered.

“I wish my mother could get a voucher for my daycare so she could keep working,” a mother writes in the “voice” of her child, an infant of 4 months. “I thank this country because it makes us feel safe. I hope that this next year will be much better, and all of the children of the world will be happy.”


“Mommy tries so hard the whole year so I told her that she can take a break for 5 minutes,” a 4-year-old boy “writes” from a shelter in Lynn, possibly with a little help. “We would really appreciate it if you could help us this year for Christmas??” he asks. “I know you are very truly busy on Christmas, and I also understand if you don’t have much help left.”

“If you do want to help me and my mommy,” he adds, “I will be at my shelter, in my room.”

It’s not easy to ask for help, not for adults, not for kids. Bravest of all are the children who, though they are far too young to be taking on such burdens, do it anyway

From another shelter, also north of Boston, comes a tag-team letter from a mother and her daughter, the eldest of her four children. “I am not working and we live in shelter,” the mother writes with evident effort. “I want help because I want from Santa make my children happy. I know that gifts will draw the smiles in their small faces.”

It’s her daughter’s turn next. “Here. My daughter like to write for Santa, because she always love him and the Christmas,” the mother says by way of introduction. The child asks for nothing from Santa for herself. “Hello Santa,” she prints scratchily, with many crossings out. “I really want my mom to be happy for Christmas. I am 8 years old. I don’t need anything. I just want my mom to be happy. Happy Christmas Santa.”


Ellen Bartlett can be reached at ellen.bartlett@globe.com.