Every year Correos Chile puts out boxes of “Dear Santa” letters that the public can sift through, choose, and later send or drop off the items requested to the sender.
Two years ago my boyfriend, his friend Luis, and I sponsored a letter from a young girl. It turned out really well.
This year the two of us sponsored 5 letters, and Luis 2 more.
I feel conflicted about whether to write about this again because I feel in some way its might be rude to write about the personal lives of these other people, or some might question whether my motivations are to make myself feel good rather than purely to help someone else. But, while I think the former is worth it for the positive light and exposure to the issue, the latter might not be entirely untrue. While I can insist that my main intention is focused on the receiver, I won’t deny that it’s been a really positive personal experience for me as well. After all, the personalized aspect of the process is why I chose to participate this way instead of anonymously dropping off a giftwrapped box in a bin somewhere.
I actually would prefer to just keep quiet to avoid my conflicting feelings all together, but I feel like this campaign isn’t very well known and is seen in such a negative light sometimes that it deserves the positive exposure, even if its just within my small friend group. Actually, everybody I have actually told my experience about in person has reacted by relaying news features that portray the campaign as a failure this year, highlighting all the scams and cheating that have been discovered within it. Those exist too, I even noticed specific examples when I was selecting letters. But I think that overall honest letters and positive experiences highly outweigh and outnumber the negative.
So far I’ve been to 3 of the houses, but I want to write about it now.
The first letter I chose was written by a lady a few years older than I am. She works selling food and crafts on the street, where she was given a big ticket for lacking a permit. When you don’t pay those (as many wont, because giving someone a ticket for illegally selling stuff on the street its almost a Catch-22 situation if you think about it) the police try to take you in to jail, again something that could be troubling for a single mother of 3. Anyway she wrote a very sweet and humble letter asking Santa to keep her kids in mind and maybe help out with Christmas dinner and some expensive dietary needs of the toddler. She seemed a little embarrassed that we came to her house, and had obviously put in a huge effort to get the place clean before we got there. She was very thankful for the dinner ingredients we put together, and the oldest boy did his best to keep his cool as he set the little gifts under three, but it was hard not to notice the huge smile that kept escaping.
The second letter we chose because it was simple, straightforward but cute, and close enough to the first address that we might as well combine the trips. Without the dad around, and after a huge and ridiculous sequence events leading to his mother’s near-death experience and injuries, there weren’t going to be Christmas presents this year…. Unless, of course, the young boy took matters into his own hands! When we called to say we were on our way with a gift, the mom was very confused, as she had no idea that her son had even written a letter to Santa. They invited us in for tea, and we chatted til 1am. The boy sat and quietly stared at the package which did indeed contain the remote control car he asked for, but he wont know that until Christmas. Overall, he seemed most pleased that the letter program had worked, and that his mom was proud of him for having thought of and executed his own idea to participate in this program.
The third letter was “written by” a 2 year old boy, which my boyfriend at first found suspicious. Given that, obviously, parents help out on these things, it didn’t put me off and I was drawn to the very practical wishes for diapers, milk and Christmas dinner. There were many numbers at the bottom of the page, and between today and yesterday I felt like I ended up talking to half the extended family! Luis was supposed to come with me to drop off the stuff, but in the end that didn’t work out and I didn’t want the trip carrying heavy stuff, a backpack full of potatoes didn’t help, to be in waste so I just went myself. The street was out of the way and really hard to find, and when I finally found it with the help of a little grandpa and a man sitting in the street by the remnants of a bonfire, I was about 1,800 house numbers away! Luckily the numbering system was disorganized and I didn’t have to go far at all. But I was somewhere I didn’t feel very comfortable, being led through meter-wide path winding between metal roofing materials. I finally got to the house and first saw the 2 year old, who was very frightened to see me. The mother was very young, a little embarrassed to have me there and especially surprised to see a foreigner. She told me about their struggles and their other baby son who had died. Then she asked me lots of questions about why I’d choose to live in Chile, and how and why we decided to bring things to people who wrote the letters. The little boy dug right into my bag and pulled out his diapers, though was too timid to talk to me until later when I gave him his own gift. He suddenly got a HUGE smile (frequently interrupted by shoving a dinosaur appendage in his mouth) and wanted nothing more than to smile at me from then on. When I left, he yelled something approximating “Chau…” and then started to cry. He didn't want me to leave!
As far as we could see, with these letters, everything written was true. These families either needed or would really enjoy having the gifts they wrote about. I don't think its necessary that the family should be exptremely poor or desperate. But its important that the public, who generally only sees a single negative angle of the program through news sources, realizes in a large number of cases, the gifts are, at the very least, a very nice contribution to the family's celebration, and they are well received by very appreciative people.
There are good endings too.