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Sun-Times’ ‘Letters to Santa’ tug at my heart. You can help. Here’s how.

Students at Octavio Paz Elementary opening gifts last year provided through the Chicago Sun-Times' "Letters to Santa"program.

Students at Octavio Paz Elementary opening gifts last year provided through the Chicago Sun-Times' "Letters to Santa"program. | Mark Brown /S un-Times

It is getting harder for me to decide on a letter from the Sun-Times’ “Letters to Santa” program.

Each one tugs at my heart.

Like this one:

“Dear Santa: I will listen to good stuff not bad stuff only to good stuff and I will listen to my mom and my teacher … and I will not say bad stuff,” wrote an 8-year-old boy from Henry Clay School in Hegewisch on the Southeast Side.

In exchange for his “goodness,” the boy is asking for a remote-control car and a 3-foot-tall Batman or Superman.

These letters also remind me that kids have an honesty about them that puts the average adult to shame. Like this one:

“Dear Santa: I have not been on my best behavior, but I have always done my homework, taken care of my dogs, done my chores,” wrote another 8-year-old boy. “I would be highly appreciative if you considered getting me an Elf on the Shelf-Pokémon card.”

Because of the violence kids are exposed to almost daily, either in their own lives or in the news, they grow up much too fast these days.

I ran across a photograph of my granddaughter when she was about the same age as these letter-writers and was struck by her raw innocence. She was sitting on the knee of a white-bearded, fully costumed, Macy’s Santa. Her sparkling eyes and joyful smile said, “I believe, Grandma. I believe.”

Those days are long gone for her. I’ll be lucky if I’m able to relive them through great-grandchildren.

But the annual Letters to Santa program gives me a chance to put that same sparkle in the eyes of a needy child in our city.

Clay serves about 600 students, and 100 percent of them receive free or reduced-cost lunch.

“Many of our families are single-parent homes and/or struggle to find work,” the school’s principal, Jennifer Laurincik, says in a letter expressing her appreciation to the donors who support this program. “We have homeless students as well who struggle to take a bus to school.”

Amy Cornell has been the coordinator of the Letters to Santa program since 2000. She never tires of doing it.

“I coordinate this program for the same reasons that Santa’s helpers keep coming back each year to request the kids’ letters,” Cornell says. “Kids with dire needs are matched with strangers in the community that really care about them and want them to know that they are not alone and they are loved.”

This year, the program is working with 79 schools, and 75 companies have signed up to serve 13,238 needy students.

“The Santa’s helpers love this program,” Cornell says. “They can’t wait to get the kids’ letters. They involved their kids in the shopping, wrapping and delivery of the gifts. And many of those kids grow up and do the same tradition with their children. Even companies get excited about this program and can’t wait to read their kids’ letters.

“With Letters to Santa, these kids are getting a chance to ask for what they really want for the holidays, whether a remote-control car, warm coat or slime.”

At our house, before we buy one gift to exchange at our Christmas dinner, we fulfill at least two Letters to Santa wishes.

I couldn’t resist this one:

Dear Santa: I’ve been really, really good this year, and I know I’ve been bad a lil. But I promise that I’ll be good for my whole life. I’ll do anything to get like a bazillion presents. I swear to God I’ll wake up, eat, get ready and go to school,” wrote one charmer. He asked for a remote-control monkey.

It’s easy to become one of Santa’s helpers. First, you make a request for one or more of the children’s letters. You get to select from a list of several wishes, staying in the price range of $25 to $30.

Finally, and this is important, you have to make sure the gift is delivered to the child’s school or participating agency by the deadline specified in the instructions we’ll send.

Then, sit back and let the magic of the season begin.

And for another year, these innocent children will get to believe.

Here’s how to help

To be one of Santa’s helpers, please go to our website at suntimes.com/santa, call us at (312) 321-3114 or email us at elves@suntimes.com.