Who We Are

Who we are

The idea for Be An Elf came on Christmas eve, 2004, when longtime USPS Operation Santa ® volunteer Hans Dohm invited his friend Patrick Reynolds to accompany him on his gift deliveries to the homes of 10 needy families. In those days, children’s addresses were not redacted from their letters to Santa, so volunteers who adopted letters could deliver the gifts to families in person. Patrick wondered why he not heard of the USPS program, and took some photos of the excited kids receiving the gifts from Santa.

“I was moved by the surprise and delight on children’s faces as we delivered Hans’ gifts,” Elf Patrick said. “I wanted more people to know about the USPS Operation Santa ® program.” Within a few days, he got the idea to form a new website and non-profit, which he initially dubbed Make a Christmas Wish. He put up a new website using the photos he took, and those photos are still on our Photos page. All are real kids and parents who wrote to Santa. Later Patrick changed the name to Be An Elf.

Patrick also shot video of Hans reading letters at a postal branch, shopping for gifts, an interview with Hans which provided a good voiceover. Most important, he filmed Hans delivering his gifts to needy families on Christmas eve, 2006. A professional video editor volunteered to cut the footage, and the original Be An Elf video was posted on YouTube and also at this site in November, 2007. Later, a video in HD was made with new volunteers. Both videos are out of date since the letters to Santa program first went online in November, 2019, but they do capture the experience of volunteering for this. To see those early videos, see Be An Elf’s YouTube Channel. While you’re there, please like and subscribe!

Patrick Reynolds, volunteer and Elf in Chief, BeAnElf.org,
reading letters in the Los Angeles Operation Letters to Santa ® room, December, 2013

In 2008, to help protect the privacy of children, the postal service began removing their family names and addresses from their letters to Santa. USPS staff replaced them with a numbered code, and asked volunteers to write the code on packages of gifts they mailed to the child or parent who wrote each letter. After each package was mailed by volunteers, USPS staff matched the corresponding address to the package, so that it would be sent directly to the family who wrote that letter to Santa. Today only postal workers are permitted to deliver gifts from volunteers to children’s homes, but the smiles on Christmas morning remain the same.

Be An Elf applied for non-profit status in 2009, and in 2010 the group was approved as a tax-exempt 501c3 organization. A new, updated video was filmed and posted on the home page in November, 2012. Google has the vision to provide a large in-kind grant to Be An Elf of $10,000 per month in free advertising, especially needed in November and December.

In 2012 Be An Elf’s news release was picked up by the Today Show, which ran a segment. At the end they mentioned this website as a good online guide to USPS Operation Santa ®. With the donations that came in, our group was able to update and re-design its website that year, and produce a new video for our home page. It’s also posted on the  Be An Elf YouTube channel.

We’re an all-volunteer, 501c3 non-profit group. Donations are tax-deductible, and will increase the number of children’s letters we adopt every year. We also need funds for a new Search Engine Optimization (SEO) campaign, whose goal will be to have search phrases like “volunteer at Christmas,” “children’s charities” and “Christmas charities” come up higher in the search results on the major search engines.

We also need funds to hire a Google Adwords consultant to groom and maintain our $10,000 per month in-kind grant from Google for free Adwords advertising, and for a Social Media marketing expert, who will help us get altitude every December on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube (none of which provides any free advertising.)

We’d use part of a major gift to retain a top public relations firm. During the holidays every year, Be An Elf puts out two or three news releases, and we post them at this site in our Press Room (links to older releases are at the bottom of the page.)

Our first news release aims to create awareness of the program among people who need assistance for the holidays. We urge the media to let people who need help with Christmas know that volunteers may respond with gifts for their kids, if they write to Santa. We include a link to our Seeking Gifts? page.

Assure your kids that they always forward the children’s letters along to the North Pole.

their letters to Santa from families in need may be posted online, or they won’t know about this program, and there may not be enough letters for the US public to adopt.

Our second news release will be wider, and aimed at creating public awareness of USPS Operation Santa ® program. We want to let more people know about it. If a major gift comes in, we will hire a top Hollywod publicist who represents movie stars, and we would then very likely be able to get a film star to volunteer to adopt a letter with press invited. The likely result would be be coverage for the USPS Operation Santa program in People Magazine, Access Hollywood, and other entertaimment shows.

It should be note that Be An Elf’s news releases mostly urge the press to cover the great USPS program, and ask for a mention BeAnElf.org at the end of coverage, as an excellent guide for people who want to volunteer for the program.

Budget permitting, we will also send a news release to financial media outlets letting them know about our Plan for Companies, which is aimed at getting corporate employees to volunteer and build teams to adopt a family for Christmas.

Having a good public relations firm working with us would be a huge plus. With that, we might even be able to get a Hollywood star or two to publicly adopt a letter online.

As donations come in to our group, it empowers us to adopt more letters ourselves, and recruit new volunteers for the Operation Santa program. They will in turn answer more children’s letters, with the end result that many additional needy children will be smiling on Christmas morning. Donations by the public fuel Be An Elf’s mission!

Today, Elf Hans Dohm lives in South Carolina. Elf Patrick Reynolds lives in Los Angeles and serves year round as Executive Director of the Foundation for a Tobaccofree World. Be An Elf is a separate non-profit 501c3 group he founded.

Be An Elf’s mission is to bring a brighter, happier Christmas to thousands of underprivileged children and their families, to recruit new volunteers for the USPS Operation Santa program, and to fill our volunteers and their families with the true spirit of Christmas.

Who our volunteers are

Every year, in over a dozen major US cities, there are “elves” who visit their main Post Office and ask to read children’s letters to Santa. They select a few letters, mostly written by children who clearly have fewer privileges than other kids. One little girl wrote,

My family is not perfect. My Mom needs money to pay bills. She believes in what we have. I believe in what’s in my heart. Our furniture don’t match. Our fridge and oven don’t work a little. She prays for me. My Mom is sad. Please help.

Sincerely, Katrina

Moms, often single and alone and sad at Christmas, also write to Santa every year, in hopes of getting needing clothing or toys for their kids.

Some volunteer “elves” at Christmas are sad and alone over the holidays, and discover inspiration and comfort in the program.

Others have families and bring their kids to read letters, to teach them the meaning of Christmas. Of course they assure their children that the letters are forwarded on to Santa on the very same day they are made available online for volunteers to adopt. These kind people are sending an extra gift or two because their parents are struggling financially, but Santa will certainly deliver his gifts to them, too!

Letters to Santa are written not only by kids, but also by single moms who may know about the program and do not have enough money to buy their kids presents for Christmas.

Lauren Psovsky of Brooklyn, NY, found out about the program through BeAnElf.org in December, 2009. She invited friends to a Christmas party at her home, and asked each guest to bring a gift for a child. The following Christmas season, she got her whole apartment building involved.

By organizing a group, Lauren was able to delegate the work of visiting the post office and choosing letters to Santa, shopping for the gifts, wrapping them all and then returning to the postal branch to mail them. She had a pretty memorable Christmas party!

Be An Elf has also received a major grant from Google, which awarded the 501c3 group an in-kind grant of $10,000 per month in free advertising. This makes the www.BeAnElf.org easy to find on the web.

The photos just below were taken Christmas Eve, 2004 and show volunteers delivering gifts on Christmas eve. However, it’s no longer possible to deliver gifts in person; to protect children’s privacy, the USPS™ now removes children’s return addresses, numbers each letter, and asks volunteers to mail their gifts. Postal workers take over the Elf role and deliver them.

Delivering gifts on Christmas Eve, 2004. BeAnElf.org volunteer Elf Patrick is on the right. It’s no longer possible to deliver gifts in person; to protect children’s privacy, the USPS ® now removes return addresses, numbers each letter, and asks volunteers to mail their gifts. The smiles and surprise on the children’s faces remain the same!

Hans Dohm brightens a mother’s Christmas. This single mother broke down and cried upon receiving “Santa’s” delivery on Christmas Eve. She said, “I had no money to buy gifts for my children this year. This is wonderful! Thank you!”

BeAnElf.org’s volunteers buy gifts for children with fewer privileges than other kids.

What to expect

NOTE: Although we have updated our Home page and our Locations page, the information which follows below this point has not been updated. The above is accurate, but what follows below is not. We just got all the new info, and are working hard to update our site.

The USPS program is going online November 18, and it has changed dramatically this year, and for the better!

This site should be fully updated by within 24 hours. 

For our pages that have been updated and that accurately reflect this year’s Operation Santa program®, please see our Home page and our Locations page.

Do not read on!


If you volunteer, you will likely need to show a photo ID at the front entrance and sign a form requiring a verified address, in order to get access to the “North Pole” room where Santa letters are available.

The USPS’ Operation Letters to Santa ® program is not available in all US cities. See our Directory of Operation Santa Branches to learn whether it’s offered in your city or State. Even in large cities like New York, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles, the program is offered at only one postal branch. Some are open only two days per week, for only two hours per day. Each branch manager sets the hours. The program ends one to five days before Christmas, depending on the branch.

At participating USPS ® postal branches, volunteers select one or more letters to Santa. To protect children, postal workers will have removed the children’s return addresses, and replaced them with a number.

After purchasing your gifts for the family, return to the same branch with your package wrapped for mailing, and mail your presents “from Santa”.

Our volunteers will often buy something for the Moms and siblings, too. Many needy children live with a single Mom, and may have brothers and sisters, who are often mentioned in kids’ letters.

Companies also can take a larger number of letters and bring them back to employees wishing to participate.

Hans Dohm was one such elf for many years. Every year in December, Hans would visit the Los Angeles South Central Post Office branch at Florence Ave and Gage. He would select as many as 10 letters to Santa which were clearly written by children or Moms in need. Katrina’s letter, above, was one of the letters he selected in 2004.

Hans and his friend Julie would then shop for gifts, wrap them at home, and make sure they were delivered by Christmas eve. The YouTube video of Hans on our home page was filmed by Elf Patrick in December, 2006.

Be An Elf hopes to inspire you to join us and do what Hans did for so many years — Be an Elf for Santa at Christmas!

The Postal Service™ calls its wonderful program Operation Santa, and the venerable USPS® has been making children’s letters available to the public for charitable purposes since 1912.

The USPS ® sends out press releases every year; Be An Elf hopes to support them by letting more people know about the USPS program. Be An Elf is not affiliated in any way with the USPS.

Every year around December first, the USPS offers an updated list of participating postal branches. For the most recent one, please see the National Directory of Operation Santa Branches.

Be An Elf’s goal and mission is to bring a brighter, happier Christmas to thousands of underprivileged children and their families.

In the future we wish to offer a list of orphanages and organizations serving them, where gifts could also be sent or personally delivered.

To achieve our goals, we are now seeking private donors and corporate sponsors.

If you wish, take a look at our other future plans. Many thanks for taking time to learn more about our group.

If you’d like to volunteer to be an Elf, please see our How to volunteer page.

If you don’t have time to volunteer, please further our mission and make a gift online , anonymously if you like.

Another way to contribute is to give by check.

Your gift to Be An Elf will further our mission of recruiting new volunteers and putting smiles on more young faces on Christmas morning.

Join us and become an Elf!


Help us bring smiles to needy kids on Christmas morning.

Only volunteers sending gifts should contact us. Santa will not see your message here! If you're seeking gifts, contact Santa's Christmas volunteers through our Writing to Santa page. If you want to give gifts, click below.


Separation Decoration

Be An Elf is a tax-exempt 501c3 children's Christmas charity. Contributions are tax-deductible. We are not affiliated with USPS Operation Santa® but we support it by creating public awareness of the program online and in social media, by recruiting and orienting new volunteers to the program, and by offering tips to needy families writing to Santa. Be An Elf also uses donations to adopt letters to Santa and send gifts to the kids who wrote them. We will never share your info with third parties; see Be An Elf's privacy policy. ©2020 Be An Elf - All rights reserved.