Letters to Santa are hard to track. A Laramie business makes sure you get a note back.
If you write a letter to Santa Claus, it’s sometimes hard to know if and when he receives them, but one business in Southeast Wyoming makes sure locals get a personalized response.
Mindy Uitterdyk helps run the “Letters to Santa” program at the UniWyo Credit Union, which accepted letters to the North Pole this year. It also helps publish them in the Laramie Boomerang on Christmas Eve. She caught up with Wyoming Public Radio’s Will Walkey to talk about it.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Will Walkey: How many volunteers do you have working on this? And do you have an estimate of how many letters you actually write and respond to?
Mindy Uitterdyk: So right now, our Santa elves are made up of about 14 individuals. And they are our employees from all different departments within UniWyo. And we just send out a call for help around this time of year or right before Thanksgiving every year when we're gearing up to do it again and get the advertising out for it.
We ask our employees who want to help, and they do it in between helping members and doing everything else that they're doing throughout the day. It's just a nice break for them to read some of these really funny, sometimes sad, letters that they receive from kids. And then have a chance to write them back and put them on the fancy paper in the red and green envelope and stamp it from the North Pole. And we try to make it as magical for the kiddo as possible when they're getting this back. We're not typing them. They're really trying to take in all the details they can from the letter.
And sometimes the beauty of a small community is you know the family or you know the mom or the dad, and maybe they're your friends. And you can even put in some information that the kiddo didn't include in the letter. So then they really feel like, “Oh, my gosh. I got this letter back from Santa. And he does know my dog's name. Or he knows that I was picking on my sister.” So it's fun for those where we do know them. And we can include some of that information that will just wow the kiddo.
WW: Are you an elf yourself?
MU: Yes, I am and have been for years. It's really fun to be able to write those letters back. And my favorite ones are the ones where I know somebody. And so I can, you know, shoot a text to the mom and be like, “Hey, so and so wanted this. Or they said this in their letter about their elf. Can you tell me the elf’s name that they have at their house so I can throw that in this letter?”
WW: Every kid's probably different and asking for different things all the time. But is there anything in particular that you've noticed in the last couple of years that kids are asking for?
MU: It seems to be different every year what the hot items are. I feel like L.O.L. dolls are always popular these last few years. That's something that people want. Race cars are always…I feel like for as long as we've been doing it, race cars. This year, I feel like it's been a little different and there hasn't been one big hot item. So that has been interesting and different from maybe in years past.
WW: Do you ever get kids asking for more abstract things?
MU: So there have been a few of those every year. But I would say in 2020, 2021 even – we've had a few this year – where those are the heart-wrenching ones where a kiddo might be asking for their dad to feel better, or wishing for happiness, or wishing that their dad would get a job and would be able to take care of them or provide more.
So those are the ones that are really, you know, we wish we could really do more for those ones rather than just a response back. And really show them, you know, people care and will support you in our community.
WW: What do you say when you get something sad like that?
MU: We don't ever want to promise something. So no matter what the letter says, whatever the toys are or anything, we never promise that they'll get something. Sometimes we say, “Here's a phone number for somebody that might be able to help in the situation.”
I remember one time a few years ago we got a letter that a kiddo was talking about [that] they hoped that their power can get turned back on. And so that was a little bit of a different situation for us, where we wanted to let somebody know that might be able to help. Or is that a potentially harmful situation for a kiddo if they don't have electricity at their house, and it's wintertime, and they, you know, can't heat the house? Or whatever it might be. And so in that situation, we did write a letter back but then also contacted our friends at United Way to help find a resource. And who do we need to reach out to for those situations?
So every now and then we do get something like that where maybe we need to go beyond just writing a letter back.
WW: Are there any other letters, maybe they're even funnier ones, that stick out to you that you've read or gotten in recent years?
MU: Yeah, for sure. Kids, their typos, and the way that they write, are hilarious. They have zero filter. And so they'll write really funny things like, “Dear Santa, I know that I pick on my sister too much. And I tease her.” Or they'll tell us how they didn't get a good grade on their last math test. But they promise to study harder and stop picking on, you know, they'll name their siblings. They'll stop teasing them and picking on them, and they promise to listen to their mom and dad.
Sometimes they'll tell us what they ate for breakfast even. Or they'll tell us what they're most looking forward to…traditions. And so those ones are a lot of fun, too, because you can feel the excitement in the kiddo. But yeah, the funniest ones are definitely the confessionals. And almost the, “Hey, I promise to do this if you bring me this.”
WW: Is there anything else I'm missing here that you'd like to mention?
MU: No matter what type of organization it is, I think that what makes a community great is if organizations invest in the people that live in those communities. Whether it really has anything to do with what their business is or not. And so for us, that's why we choose to do Letters to Santa and a lot of the other things that we do because it supports the community.
And sure, maybe it's only 200 people every year, and it does take a lot of time and resources to do it. But the positive impact that we can make for those kids and those parents, those families, by sending a letter back. Or having a place where the kids can drop off a letter. I think that is just phenomenal. And that's why we do what we do every day.