Jim Glaub and Dylan Parker had just been handed the keys to their new Manhattan apartment on 22nd Street when the outgoing tenant said something curious: “Just so you know, there’s this thing where letters addressed to Santa come to the apartment.” The previous tenants had received the mail too. It had been coming for years, and no one knows why. “But it’s not that big a deal.”
Glaub and Parker settled in to their new home, and for the first two years only a few letters trickled in from kids or parents asking “Santa” for gifts they could not otherwise afford: toys, coats, a doll. Then in the months leading to Christmas 2010, they were deluged. Every day, they’d open their mailbox to find it brimming over with letters to Santa. They responded to as many as they could, writing notes, even buying gifts. But they could only do so much.
Glaub, of course, is not Santa. He runs a Broadway marketing company. But one night, when he and Parker threw a 1960s-themed Christmas party, a solution appeared. Guests, dressed in mod outfits and hippie beads, noticed the hundreds of letters Glaub and Parker had yet to act upon, tucked in the corner of their dining room, and asked about them.
“I told them the story,” Glaub says. His guests were intrigued. “A lot of people were like, ‘I’ll take a letter. I’ll fulfill it.’ ”
That’s when Glaub and Parker realized they didn’t have to fulfill all these letters themselves. “People want to help.”
And so was born Miracle on 22nd Street, a community-based volunteer organization that responds to children’s letters to Santa with season’s greetings and gifts for kids.Laura Barisonzi For Reader's Digest One of the thousands of notes to Santa
To spread the word, they started a website, miracleon22ndstreet.com, and a Facebook page. Working with other nonprofits that help those in need, they invited families from around the country to go online and request gifts and Christmas toys for their children. Likewise, donors, aka “elves,” can sign up to buy gifts for a child or family, accompanied by a signed note with Elf before their name, such as Elf Jim or Elf Jody. Both families and elves are vetted either by the nonprofits or by Miracle on 22nd Street.
Letters typically request popular items, such as Paw Patrol and CoComelon for little kids, makeup and bikes for older ones. One child living in a crowded household wrote that he suffered back pain from sleeping on the living room couch. With the OK from the boy’s parents, the child’s elf bought him a bed.
Some letters are heartbreaking. One child wrote: “Dear Santa, For Christmas, I want my brothers to get better. My younger brother has a hard time walking and has to use his wheelchair. I wish he could play like me. I also wish my baby brother could eat like me and not have his feeding tube. I know these are not real presents, but this is all I want this year.”
That’s a tough ask for any elf. But Miracle on 22nd Street did send the children gift cards and a kind note.
Last year, Glaub and Miracle on 22nd Street helped more than 800 families. One beneficiary wrote on Facebook: “Huge shoutout to my kids’ elf! You helped give this newly single momma of 4 the best present. You gave my babies a reason to smile and enjoy their Christmas after everything we’ve been through. All I wanted was to see them happy, and I got just what I wanted.”
Glaub no longer dwells on why the letters come to the apartment. Putting in the long hours to help the families is what it’s all about for him. “It’s part of Christmas for me,” he says. “It’s the same for the elves and families. They look forward to it. Not to do it would be very sad for a lot of people. It wouldn’t be Christmas without it.”