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Changes to USPS Letters to Santa program upend charities' plans

USPS aims to protect privacy of needy Letters to Santa writers, after an incident last year in which a registered sex offender obtained the address of a child. Charities scramble to adjust.

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A US Postal Service revision to its decades-old Letters to Santa program has some charities scurrying to figure out if and how they can continue giving to needy people who write in to ask for help.

Take organizers of a holiday benefit at Chicago's famed Second City theater. For each of the past 10 years, the event has raised more than $1 million for Chicago families living in housing projects or amid desperate circumstances. The recipe was simple and, until this year, always the same: Musicians and actors performed, money got raised, organizers bought goods and delivered a van load each to about a dozen families.

Families were selected using the postal service's Letters to Santa program. But this year, to protect letter writers' privacy, the USPS will no longer release their addresses, last names, or other private information to charities. Charitable givers, instead of delivering goods to recipients in person, will be required to mail them. (The USPS will assign a code to each letter writer, and it will be the only entity that knows a recipient's address, for delivery of the donation.)

The changes follow an incident last December in which a registered sex offender in Maryland obtained the address of a young letter writer. According to Postal Service spokeswoman Sue Brennan, the program was shut down for three days.

The sex offender never made contact with the child, but the postal service decided to redraft Letters to Santa. "We just wanted to make sure there is no way anyone could violate the privacy and safety of these children," says Ms. Brennan. Thirty-nine cities volunteer to participate in the program.

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