Christmas is Joe Lebert’s favorite holiday, but decorating for it isn’t much fun at his rural home in Fawn, where few people will see it.
His mother’s house on Rankin Street in Arnold, across from HD Berkey Elementary School, was a better place. For a while he put a Christmas tree on the roof of the porch. The college kids loved it. But it didn’t become such a good idea after the roof got new shingles.
Lebert went looking for something new.
And then something unexpected – some say magical – happened.
To replace the tree, Lebert, 42, bought a “Letters to Santa Claus” mailbox and, for the first time in 2019, installed it in front next to the sidewalk.
One day after work, Lebert saw what looked like white papers under the mailbox. He said he thought someone had dropped trash there.
But the papers were actually letters to Santa Claus from the 19 students in Professor Mick Dombroski’s first-grade class at Berkey.
Dombroski said he saw the mailbox, asked his students to write their letters, and accompanied the class to drop off the letters – only to realize later that the mailbox was only a decoration.
But soon after, the answers to each letter appeared at school.
Santa Claus is very busy as Christmas approaches, so although he had time to answer the letters, he was unable to deliver them directly to the children himself.
Like any good elf, Lebert brought the answers to school.
“The kids were so excited. It was better than seeing Santa, seeing these personalized letters for them,” Dombroski said. “They just started shouting, ‘It’s from Santa! Look at that!’ and share with each other. So much joy emanates from them. It’s the most excitement they have all year. These letters are very special to them.
“It’s a magic mailbox.”
Lebert may not have known it at the time, but by delivering that first batch of letters, he was signing a pledge.
More letters to Santa have been filed in the past year and answered. Lebert personally delivered them to nearly 50 children.
“The small role I play makes the holiday season even more special for me,” Lebert said.
Santa’s personalized responses include cards from the ‘Elf Executive Office’ certifying that the recipient is on the official ‘Nice List’, with encouragement to keep up the good work.
In an accompanying letter, which is of course double-checked and signed by the elf himself, Santa promises that he and his team will do their best to ensure the children get what they ask for.
The mailbox was released at the beginning of this year. Lebert said letters to Santa should be sent no later than December 19, when the mailbox will be removed.
Unless going to Berkey, letters should have return-to-home addresses so Lebert knows where to pick up replies.
The first letters from Santa Claus should arrive from December 1st. Berkey students will receive theirs at school.
With rumor spreading about the magic of his mailbox, Lebert is ready for another increase in the number of letters.
“I’ve had people offer to help me this year,” he says. “It’s pretty amazing what it’s become.”