Santa’s elves in North Pole, Alaska, are in search of a new ad­dress

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD -

AN­CHOR­AGE: Santa’s “elves” at the North Pole have been given their walk­ing pa­pers – but they’re not go­ing qui­etly.

The vol­un­teer “elves” are try­ing to counter a de­ci­sion by the US Postal Ser­vice to dis­con­tinue a pro­gramme be­gun in 1954 in the small Alaskan town of North Pole, where they open and re­spond to thou­sands of let­ters ad­dressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole” each year.

“The city was founded on the Christ­mas theme,” Gabby Ga­borik, chief elf among sev­eral dozen vol­un­teers, said on Thurs­day. “This is our iden­tity. This is North Pole, Alaska.”

Ga­borik said he met with Postal Ser­vice of­fi­cials this week to come up with an al­ter­na­tive. He’s now work­ing with lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to get “101 Santa Claus Lane” as an ad­dress for his group, Santa’s Mail­bag.

That way chil­dren will have a spe­cific des­ti­na­tion for their let­ters, al­low­ing vol­un­teers to run their own pro­gramme and by­pass strin­gent new rules im­ple­mented by the Postal Ser­vice af­ter se­cu­rity is­sues arose in a sim­i­lar pro­gramme in Mary­land last year.

Peo­ple in North Pole are in­censed by the changes. The let­ter pro­gramme is a revered hol­i­day tra­di­tion in North Pole, where lamp posts are curved and striped like candy canes and streets have names like Kris Kringle Drive. Vol­un­teers in the let­ter pro­gramme even sign the re­sponse let­ters as Santa’s elves and helpers.

The North Pole pro­gramme was stymied by a tighter process put in place na­tion­wide by the Postal Ser­vice af­ter a postal worker in Mary­land recog­nised a vol­un­teer with the agency’s Op­er­a­tion Santa pro­gramme as a reg­is­tered sex of­fender. The worker in­ter­vened be­fore the in­di­vid­ual could an­swer a child’s let­ter, but the agency viewed the scare as a rea­son to tighten se­cu­rity and bar vol­un­teers from hav­ing ac­cess to chil­dren’s last names and ad­dresses.

The Postal Ser­vice de­cided this month to end the North Pole let­ter pro­gramme, say­ing deal­ing with the tighter re­stric­tions isn’t fea­si­ble in Alaska.

Santa Claus House, a North Pole store built like a Swiss chalet and chock full of all sorts of Christ­mas items, sells more than 100 000 let­ters from Santa, and one of the lures is the post­mark.

Alaska’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion has stepped in to find a so­lu­tion. Repub­li­can Se­na­tor Lisa Murkowski, Demo­cratic Se­na­tor Mark Begich and Repub­li­can Repub­li­can Don Young have sent let­ters to Post­mas­ter Gen­eral John Pot­ter ex­press­ing con­cerns over the changes. – Sapa-AP

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