In its 108th year, the US Postal Service's annual "Operation Santa" letter writing campaign is going digital -- and expanding nationwide -- to adapt to the ongoing pandemic.
The program allows children and families to write letters to Santa, which will then be processed and shared online beginning on December 4 at USPSOperationSanta.com. Once the letters are live, anyone in the US can go online and adopt a letter, and help make a child or family's holiday wishes come true. Companies also can help adopt letters as teams.
While anyone and everyone can write a letter, the program was started to help families and kids in need, said Kim Frum, a spokeswoman for USPS.
"The program has always been about providing holiday gifts for families who may not have the means to provide for anything more than basic everyday needs," Frum told CNN in email.
Over the last 108 years, the USPS has received hundreds of thousands of letters as part of the "Operation Santa" program, Frum said. Last year alone, more than 11,000 packages were sent to people who wrote to Santa and had their letters adopted.
USPS first launched an online pilot of USPS Operation Santa in 2017 in New York City, Frum said. It expanded to seven cities online in 2018, and 17 cities in 2019. The success of the digitization of the program helped pave the way for this year's expansion.
The decision to go fully digital comes as coronavirus cases continue to surge nationwide, leaving the nation to grapple with the consequences, including the economic impact.
"This year, there are likely more families impacted financially and emotionally. It will be hard to celebrate the holidays without loved ones, whether because of distance or actual loss. But being able to provide even the tiniest bit of normalcy or spark of happiness to those in need would mean the world to so many people right now."
As of Tuesday evening, there are more than 11.3 million coronavirus cases in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University data, and more than 248,000 coronavirus-related deaths.
"2020 has seen its share of challenges affecting individuals and families in so many ways," Frum said. "COVID-19 resulted in job losses, temporary unemployment, and, sadly, the loss of family and friends. Couple that with devastation from natural disasters, and it's easy to see why USPS Operation Santa program is more important than ever."
Those writing a letter to Santa can send it in an envelope with a first-class stamp addressed to Santa Claus, at his address: Santa Claus, 123 Elf Road, North Pole 88888. Those looking to adopt a letter must go through a short registration and ID verification process first. Full instructions are available on the Operation Santa website.
According to USPS, the identities of both the letter writers and the letter adopters are kept anonymous for privacy and to "preserve the spirit of Santa."