by Annette Hinkle
In December, the Sag Harbor Police Officer turns “elfin” by processing letters from the Police Benevolent Association’s Santa mailbox. Natuzzi talks about the tradition, the letters and what kids want most this year.
For those who haven’t written to Santa lately, where can the Sag Harbor Santa Mailbox generally be found during the holidays?
It’s to the right of the Municipal Building on Main Street. Once we get the approval from next door, I try to get it out there as early as possible — usually around December 1.
How many years has the PBA sponsored the mailbox?
It’s been a long time. It started back in the early ‘90s.
Do you know how the tradition started?
Detective Paul Fabiano, my partner, he started it. In the early ‘90s as far as Christmas in the village went, he thought he’d lighten the spirit a little. There wasn’t much going on then. The village was decorated, but he thought it would be nice if there was something for the children as well to send a letter to Santa. Instead of having to go to the post office to mail them, he thought it should be a box where the letters are sent directly to Santa. It took off from there. The first year, it only started with a couple letters. Now it’s hard to respond to all of them.
Wait a minute, you actually help Santa out by sending personal replies?
We try to respond to them the best we can. Letters start coming in within a week and a half to two weeks after the box is out there. The tough thing is having the letter sent back to the kid by Christmas. And of course, a lot of them are addressed to Santa without a return address. We’re elves and we get the letters from the mailbox to the North Pole. It’s tough because we’re busy enough as it is. I work a rotating schedule, and I’m busy. So I’ll go get the letters, take them home and write them out there. I used to hand write them. Now to keep up with it I do it with a computer.
How do you think the kids feel when they get a personalized letter back from Santa?
I think they’re surprised. It’s nice if it’s early enough and Santa can respond before Christmas. I went to the box the other day, and there were another 30 letters there. Now it’s kind of late. I don’t want to interfere with Santa making the deliveries on Christmas Eve by having a letter come after Christmas.
How many letters do you think children sent to Santa this year using the box?
I get anywhere from 75 to 100 letters from kids on the East End — Southampton, Sag Harbor, East Hampton. It’s scattered throughout. Some people when they’re out for the weekend with their kids they’ll go to Santa’s mailbox and if we do get them early enough we get them a reply out.
Do you have other elves who help you handle all those letters?
If other elves are available, sure, they’ll jump in and we try to do it as a group. We work on patrol in two man shifts and if an elf working with me is free enough after the shift, then we’ll take some time to do it. I also do a lot on my own time.
What are some of the most popular toy requests for Christmas 2011?
It’s funny. You can see by the kids writing the letters, there’s a wide variety of ages. A handful of older kids ask for things like games for the Xbox. Legos are also unbelievably popular. My youngest is a fanatic about them. Every year things they ask for change. But this year a lot of them want video games — from the hand held DS to PlayStation.
I always get one from someone who wants a puppy, but that’s a tough one if the parents don’t want it. So I tell them the parents have to do that, since it’s difficult for Santa to deliver something like that on the sleigh,
A lot of the younger girls like The American Girl Dolls, and clothes. A lot of kids will say ‘I tried to be good but sometimes I wasn’t.’ They’re pretty honest. One kid said ‘I will try to be good again,’ and then he asked for another gift. Usually the main thing they want, they write at the top of the list, then it goes down in the order they want it and at the bottom, it’s “Oh yeah, I’d like this too if you have time.”
In addition to the Santa Mailbox, does the PBA do other things around the holidays for the community?
We’re big with the food pantry. All the elves and the PBA members bring in boxes of whatever we can come up with. We’ll do a nice big shopping around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Personally, I’ve brought plenty of boxes in to feed people in this time who are not as fortunate. We do a lot in this way.
What’s on your Christmas list this year?
At this point, it’s all about the kids. In past years my wife and I made sure that if we need something for the house we’d get it…but it puts a sparkle in each other’s eyes to open a little something special from each other on Christmas.