Their letters were on top of the pile. Twin sisters, Jennifer and Jessica, wrote Santa separately from separate households but were thinking of each other.
"I want to see my mommy and my sister," wrote Jennifer, who apparently had suffered a serious illness or injury. "I would like to be able to walk, eat, and be able to use the bathroom on my own."
Jessica, who started high school this year, addressed her letter to the "North Pole or Heaven." She asked for a computer, but more as an afterthought. "I will ask you again to heal my sister Jennifer. I try to live for me and Jenn so I live everyday like it's my last," she said.
How do you answer that?
At the post office, they put such letters in the "needy" pile and hope someone notices.
At this time every year, letters to Santa arrive. The handwritten letters range from heartfelt pleas to more typical requests for computer games, Barbies and the Spider-Man DVD.
The post office receives more than a thousand Santa letters, and puts the needy ones in its Adopt-A-Family program. It pairs the needy letters with people who want to answer a stranger's Christmas wishes. So far about half of these 160 letters had been adopted. (You can call 410-347-4260 to adopt a letter.)
"I ask my kids what they wanted for Christmas," wrote a single mother in Baltimore, "and they told me whatever you can afford."
Darius, 9, wrote that he wants "toys, clothes or anything. We are just kids surviving for the future." A woman named Francis said, "I know my children would like a toy but necessity comes first." Her children need shoes and coats.
People wrote Santa about heart attacks, evictions, sewage backups, marital problems, gas bills on the brink and drugs on the corner. "I need help because I got punch in the face by a drug dealer because I told him to get away from my house," wrote a single mother. She wants Santa to bring her children a Sorry game, a tea set and "anything with Winnie the Pooh."
Dawn, a single mother of three in Baltimore, gives her children's sizes for coats, shirts, pants and underclothes. "Also," she wrote, "I would take anything you can give me in food." A Baltimore woman asked Santa for a mattress because her family sleeps on the floor.
"You don't have to give us the whole bed."
Again, how do you respond to that?
Put the letter in the "needy" box, next to the boxes of the more than 1,000 other letters that warrant a different response - a cheery Santa postcard from the post office. These letters provide some comic relief in the otherwise heartbreaking letter-sorting program.
"I want a fish that won't die for a lot of years," Brooke of Glen Burnie wrote Santa at 123 Kris Kringle Way, North Pole. She also wants voice lessons so she can be on American Idol - and art lessons and modeling clay for her pottery wheel.
Every year, there are perfunctory greetings to Mrs. Claus and Rudolph, who long ago must have accepted their secondary roles in the operation. But this year, the First Lady of Christmas did rate her own letter.
"Dear Mrs. Claus,
"Do you get excited about Christmas time? Do you ever go on Santa's sleigh? Do you ever worry about him? Oh, I'm excited to hear from you!" wrote Aloise from Baltimore. "Do you get cold in your house? Or do you have heat?" Aloise doesn't mention a single toy - a strategy that could pay off big time.
Other kids open with a character disclaimer.
"I was OK this year," wrote Sarah from Towson. "I have anger problem. Like if I in my mode if you say hi like 10 times I would hit you. I'm trying to work on it." Sarah wants "lip gloss stuff" and a "surprise" (but probably not a surprise "hi").
In other letters, a boy slipped Santa a lottery ticket - already scratched off. A girl named Weezie wants a fingerprint investigation lab. One boy asked Santa for a video camera, and while Santa is at it, "mom wants a bottle of champagne."
Another child wrote Santa a dizzying, six-page wish list of more than 180 items, including a Playstation 2. Other lists included mysterious items such as a "Bratz-Toyko goo-goo doll" and a "Ruffle Cami Bra." Dora the Explorer dolls are popular, as are Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards. Bless him, one kid asked for a football. We weren't sure they still made those.
To underscore the urgency of her situation, Angela from Baltimore passed along company documentation: "Dear friend, I'm a bit concerned because we have not received your initial payment for the Statehood Quarters collection," said the business reply. Apparently, Angela wants Santa to cough up his gold card number and make the deal. And Megan from Baltimore wants a guitar. "Please don't tell my parents," she wrote. "Just please bring it."
Guitars, Playstation 2, statehood quarters, a fish that won't die for years.
Food, coats, shoes, mattresses, a healed sister.