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 later changed the name to Be An Elf. Those photos are still on our Photos page; all are real people who wrote to Santa.
Patrick also shot video of Hans reading letters at a postal branch, shopping for gifts, an interview with Hans, and then Hans delivering his gifts to needy families on Christmas eve, 2006. A top video editor volunteered to cut the footage, and the original Be An Elf video was posted on YouTube and at this site in November, 2007. It was later replaced by a video in HD with new volunteers. The video is out of date since the letters to Santa program went online in November, 2019, but it captures the experience of volunteering for this, so we did not remove it. See Be An Elf’s Home page.
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. Of course, during the holidays every year, Be An Elf puts out two or three news releases, and posts them at this site in our Press Room. In 2019, our press release will target only local media in the USPS “online cities,” listed on our Locations page, and will be aimed at letting people who need assistance for the holidays know they can write to Santa in those cities, and that Christmas volunteers may respond with gifts before forwarding their children’s letters along to the North Pole.
Families in need in the “online cities” where letters mailed to Santa are 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.
We’ll also send a third news release to financial media outlets to let them know about our new Plan for Companies, aimed at getting corporate employees involved. We’re working on finalizing that now, and on drafting our first news release of the season.
But having a major public relations firm involved would be a huge plus!
As donations come in to our group, it empowers us to answer 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.
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.
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.
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 Be an Elf 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!