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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Operation Santa Claus' Makes Wishes Reality

NEW YORK -- The envelope is addressed simply to "Dear Santa." The letter inside pleads politely for a wheelchair.


"May you get me a willchair," reads the letter with some of the words misspelled. "I need the willchair to be powered. I need it to get around. Can you help me Santa? I would do anything for this. ... Love allways, Miracle Retrina."


The 9-year-old, born with no arms and only one functional leg, wrote the faint, crooked words by pushing a pencil with her left foot. Now Miracle Retrina Womack awaits a miracle, and Guillermina "Gigi" Colon is ready to help.


"This is what life is really about," Colon says, clutching the child's note as she dashes through the cavernous halls of the General Post Office in Manhattan, smiling at coworkers who greet her with "Hi Santa!"


The jolly, Dominican-born pixie is the energy behind "Operation Santa Claus," which makes Christmas dreams come true at the city's huge main post office, next to Penn Station and Madison Square Garden.


In the United States, as in other countries, children traditionally write to Santa Claus during the Christmas season, asking for gifts to be placed under the tree on Christmas.


A record 153,000 "Dear Santa" letters from around the world had arrived by Friday to be sorted, computerized and made available to anyone who wants to become an instant guardian angel. Some come from as far away as South Africa and Japan.


"Most post offices in the world know about us," says Colon, head of customer relations at the General Post Office.


"Operation Santa Claus" was started nearly 70 years ago by postal workers who answered letters that were headed for the trash. It now attracts gifts from individuals and businesses, and is mirrored around the country at 84 other postal service consumer affairs offices. About a third of the New York letters are "adopted." People can pick through overflowing boxes to choose letters from the city's five boroughs, as well as "Foreign," "New Jersey," "Spanish" and "Mixed States."


The opportunities don't end on Christmas. Hispanic children traditionally receive gifts on Epiphany in January -- "El Dia De Reyes," which celebrates the day the three kings brought gifts to the baby Jesus.


Among the letters, a New York child asks for spaghetti, rice and beans, blankets, a coat and -- "if you can" -- a real live bunny. A girl with real live mice in her Queens house asks for a mouse trap. Some mistake this for a lottery, like the kid who wants a cherry-red Cadillac with matching leather interior -- no convertible top, please.


Colon, 45, who puts in hundreds of unpaid hours at work, lives with two grown sons and a 2-year-old granddaughter. This year, they chose a letter from a single mother with three children in Brooklyn and will give them tickets for the Broadway musical "Cats."