Betty Park - Hope Sullivan Elementary

Santa’s helper Betty Park is all smiles as Hope Sullivan Elementary School kindergarteners file by and drop their letters to Santa Claus into a bag for delivery to the Southaven Post Office and mailing to the North Pole.

While Santa Claus is making his list and checking it twice, he is getting a bunch of letters from students at a DeSoto County elementary school to review.

Kindergarteners at Hope Sullivan Elementary School in Southaven have written to Ol’ Saint Nick telling him what they want under the tree for Christmas.

The approximately 200 youngsters of the school at 7985 Southaven Circle West took a moment in class recently to write their letters to Santa and address the envelopes.

The U.S. Postal Service and Santa’s Helper Betty Park of the Southaven Post Office are taking it from there.

Park was on hand Tuesday morning dressed in her Christmas elf finery at the school entrance as each class lined up to drop their envelopes in her special bag.

“The Post Office does this a lot,” Park explained. “It’s traditionally done where you can send it in and we send it back to their actual home. We do this with Hope Sullivan pretty much every year.”

The program typically works where youngsters write their letters, address it to Santa at the North Pole and include another envelope addressed back to them that states, “From Santa.” That envelope will have a special postmark from North Pole, Alaska stamped on it and then sent by return mail to the boy or girl’s home address they provided.

Because of time restraints, Park said the letters collected from the school will not to Alaska, but to Santa’s Mississippi bureau in Jackson, so they may be given the special stamp and returned back to the students before Christmas break begins later in December. Park added it normally takes about a week for a letter to reach the northern-most point of the 49th state.

Letters to Santa from Hope Sullivan is in its second year and started with fellow postal worker Rebecca Jaco starting the partnership last year. Park became Santa’s helper this year when Jaco could not be involved.

Park and school officials said there’s an educational component for the youngsters. While they may know so much about video games and computers, many of the younger generation don’t know how deal with sending an actual envelope.

“I have high schoolers and maybe first-year college students who come to me and not know how to address a letter,” Park said. “They don’t know where to put the ‘To’ or the ‘From’ on the envelope, or where to put the stamp on. It’s a digital age but there’s still some basic things that they need to learn.”

Park said the program also promotes writing and reading, a fact principal Kenneth McKinney agrees with.

“It teaches them hope for one thing,” McKinney said. “It teaches them how to write academically, it teaches them that communication is very important. It also teaches them about love. Kids love Christmastime and Santa Claus.”

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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