By Sharon Chin

DIXON (KPIX) — Michelle McFarland, who lives in Fairfield, drives her three sons, ages 4, 6 and 8, to Dixon to mail letters to Santa Claus.

“Last year there was a shutdown. They had less contact so, this year, it’s that much more joyous,” McFarland said.

The mailbox — actually a donated Dixon Tribune newspaper stand — goes up every December on the 2000 block of Rehrmann Drive at Evans Road.

The program, Dixon’s North Pole, has received letters for Santa Claus for the past five years.

Head elves Loren Dougherty and neighbor Becky Santini are among those checking (twice, naturally) to make sure Santa mails back a personal note.

“It’s good to give back to the community. I own a business locally and it’s something we like to do as a business,” Dougherty said.

The program is on track to match the 200 letters received last year — double the preceding year.

Dougherty’s young kids, like 8-year-old Landon, get excited waiting for Santa’s handwritten response.

“When he gives you your letter and you read it, it boosts your confidence,” Landon said.

During COVID, the requests are little different from years past.

Landon’s 9-year-old sister, Jayci, reads the beginning of her letter to Santa.

“Dear Santa, Merry Christmas,” she wrote. “I would love to get you a present this year. I hope cookies and milk are enough.”

Then she asks for more than art supplies and Legos.

“I hope this isn’t a lot to ask but can I have some fidgets to help me with my stress, please?”

She, like many students her age, are adjusting from virtual to in-person learning.

“You haven’t been there for a year and it’s hard to go back,” she explained.

Becky Santini says a number of letters reflect pandemic challenges which prompt heartfelt responses from Santa.

“He understands, he’s sorry they’re going through whatever situation that is and that he knows good things are coming,” Santini said.

Elves are also seeing a more serious tone in some letters delivered to the post office in the 109th year of Operation Santa.

Some 18,000 letters addressed to the North Pole with gift requests can be accessed online at http://uspsoperationsanta.com so generous individuals and businesses can help fulfill the writer’s holiday wishes.

One is from a child who lost a grandmother and two aunts, whose mom is struggling to pay the rent.

At San Francisco’s main post office processing center, Kristina Uppal explained how some letters tug at the heartstrings.

“They’re really looking for a little bit of holiday hope,” Uppal said.

Children request gifts for their siblings and even for their parents who’ve lost jobs and homes in the pandemic.

“We’ve actually gotten a special request like a washer and dryer where our headquarters team helped coordinate that delivery,” said Uppal.

Thanks to Santa’s helpers, the gift of giving is very much alive.

“Being able to give kids a little bit of Christmas joy, being able to maybe be an answer to a prayer, it’s just a blessing,” Santini said.

It’s a gift that will lift families’ spirits long after the decorations come down.

Note: This is the second year that people could go online and help adopt letters to fulfill the gift requests for Operation Santa.

The deadline for Dixon’s North Pole Santa letters is Dec. 20.

The deadline for letters sent to Operation Santa at 123 Elk Road, North Pole, 88888 is Dec. 10.