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MIHALOPOULOS: Helping Santa find Heaven on the West Side

Letters to Santa. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Around this time a year ago, I went to the table in the Chicago Sun-Times newsroom where we keep many of the correspondences we get from the kids from across Chicago who participate in our Letters to Santa program.

It’s a bit of a tradition here at the Sun-Times to shuffle the pile, read a bunch of the letters during lunch break — and then reward the young writer who tugs the hardest on your heartstrings, for whatever reason.

Instead of browsing last year, I simply grabbed the first letter that happened to be at the top of the pile at the exact moment when I went to claim a letter.

Deep down, I guess, taking the first letter I saw in front of me felt like the fairest way to choose whose Christmas my family would try to brighten.

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I mean, who but the real Santa himself can say any one boy or girl is more deserving of a gift at the holidays than any other kid?

There seemed no reason to be at all picky about whom we shopped for.

A great part of participating in the Letters to Santa program is just knowing that some little kid, somewhere out there in this city, will get what he or she wanted.

This year, however, I went hunting through the boxes and boxes of letters that we’ve collected at the Sun-Times.

We can’t see our correspondents from Chicago’s public schools. Because if they saw us, then that would defeat the purpose of being a secret Santa.

Still, in reading through many of the thousands of letters for just a while on Tuesday afternoon, I searched for the other thing I would like to get from participating in the program.

I wanted just a glimpse, through the letter writers’ eyes, of what their lives are like.

The letter from a girl named Heaven, a third-grader from the West Side, jumped out at me from deep within this year’s pile because the 9-year-old immediately promised exactly what I hoped to know.

“Dear Santa,” she wrote. “Let me tell you a little about myself.”

Heaven said she liked running and soccer, and her favorite things were ice cream and candy. She has good taste, similar to that of this Santa and his Mrs. Claus and their daughter.

“But the things that are most important to me are my family because I love them and if anything happens to them, I will die,” Heaven added.

As vitally important as her family is, Heaven wanted Santa to know she also has been good to others in her class — and is on the lookout for kids who might not be as nice to their classmates as she is.

“At school I been good and help people that get bullied by telling someone,” she said.

It’s a start. If Heaven stays on that path, and inspires others to do likewise, then the next generation of reporters might have far fewer stories to write about the likes of a Harvey Weinstein.

I’m sure my priest would say we need to do a lot more to get to heaven eventually. But this Christmas, my family will start by getting Heaven a jewelry maker or a slime maker, because “that is all” she wants.

“I am very glad that you are here every day so that you can see what I am doing,” Heaven concluded her letter by saying. “I hope you have a great year and be the best you can be.”

Thanks, Heaven, for giving us a little chance to see what you are doing. And to do a little bit toward being the best we can be.

If you want to help Santa out, visit our website at www.suntimes/santa, call us at (312) 321-3114 or email us at elves@suntimes.com.