‘Dear Santa: I am good. …Can you please give me that Lego set?’
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“I am really funny. I love my family a lot,” one 8-year-old assures Santa. “I would love a new Lego set, a Captain Underpants book … shoes.”
Another provides all the pertinent information: “I am a boy. I am eight years old. I am good.” And in case Santa can’t find him: “My room is 207.”
Both are in teacher Jeremy Zuniga’s third-grade class at Hammond Elementary School in Little Village. Hammond is among dozens of schools and nonprofit groups taking part in the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust’s annual “Letters to Santa” program.
This time of year, the schools and agencies begin rallying the needy kids they serve, having them write letters describing their heart’s desires to the fat jolly guy. Whole classrooms forward stacks of lovingly written entreaties in sometimes careful, sometimes jagged penmanship, augmented by their drawings offered up as gifts.
These letters are rerouted to the Sun-Times and into the hands of readers who have answered their pleas year after year.
“The toys! This Santa program is so amazing. The kids look so much forward to it,” says Lilian Sackett, the bilingual coordinator at Hammond Elementary.
“For many of our families, that is the only gift they get,” says Sackett, the “Letters to Santa” liaison for the school, which serves students from Little Village and South Lawndale.
Ninety-seven percent of Hammond’s 400 students live below the poverty level, many in families with struggling single parents, others from large immigrant families. Some live in homeless shelters.
“There is a great need,” Sackett says. “It’s not uncommon to have in a two-bedroom apartment, two families with five, six or seven children.
“The parents work very hard, but it’s difficult to be able to provide. So our kids are always in need of shoes, winter clothing, gloves. Sometimes they come to school in thin coats, and sometimes I see kids crying because their hands are so cold.”
Their letters don’t speak of these hardships, though. There is only talk of whether they’ve been good or bad, and might Santa provide a remote-controlled car or plane, a Lego Batman or Ninjago set.
“Can I have a Freddy’s Plush so I can play with it with my brother? And the last thing I want is a grocery going set so I can play with my brother,” writes one boy who knows it never hurts to promise to share.
And from a kid who figures he’ll be upfront because Santa already knows these things: “I am a good person, even though I get in trouble a bit. I am nice to my family, a little. And I even help my friends, sometimes. For Christmas, please can I have a Fidget Cube and Legos?”
You then purchase the requested gifts for each child — there’s a suggested spending limit of $25 to $30 — and deliver them wrapped to the school or nonprofit by the deadline in your instruction letter.
But don’t take my word these kids deserve it. Hear how good they’ve been.
“Dear Santa: I am good to everybody. For Christmas, can you please give me that Lego set?” one boy implores.
A classmate says: “Dear Santa: I am a good kid. I do nice things for other people. Can I please have a Whoopee cushion?”
While we rally around them for toys, these kids still have to get through Thanksgiving.
“We have some families where pretty much their three meals is what they eat here at school,” says Sackett. “So we’ll be collecting turkeys and canned goods from area businesses to make sure they have Thanksgiving.”
Won’t you help?
“Dear Santa: The toys I’m going to get, I want them please. But if you don’t do it, it is fine. I’ll still be happy,” writes one third-grader.
“Dear Santa,” writes another. “I know you can give anything, but I’ll take anything you give me … and some shoes.”