You can look all you like, but it would be hard to find anyone more dedicated to lending Santa a hand than Bob Otway and his crew of elves.
Otway has helped Santa sort his mail in assorted South Okanagan communities for so long he can’t remember how many years.
“I’ve lost count, around 25 years,” said Otway. Last year, he said, the crew of Santa’s helpers handled over 1,400 letters for the man in red, sorting them, making sure Santa replies to each and getting them delivered to the kids in time for Christmas.
“In Penticton we have volunteered to do it,” said Otway, a retired Canada Post employee. “Judy (Bob’s wife) and I, Cal and Willy Hornby, we enjoy doing them.
“And, of course, it is fun reading the letters.”
Every letter is read, Otway said, and while Canada Post supplies form letters to be sent back to the children, he and his fellow volunteers make sure Santa writes a personal, handwritten message on each.
Typically, the kids are asking for certain toys or gifts or they ask about the reindeer, Mrs. Claus or the weather at the North Pole. But some, Otway said, want a bit more.
“The ones that get you the most are the ones that say they don’t want anything for Christmas and they want the people that don’t have anything to be looked after,” said Otway.
Otway said Santa likes to hear if the children help out around the house: helping their mom do the dishes, make their bed or look after their brother or sister or their pet.
If they mention their dog’s name, Santa may mention that in his reply, said Otway, and the child will be sure Santa read their letter.
Though they are headed for the far north (Santa’s address is Santa Claus, North Pole, H0H OHO — no postage needed), Otway said the letters should be dropped off at the mailbox at Santa’s castle in Cherry Lane Shopping Centre or handed over the counter at the post office.
That way, he explained, the local volunteers will be able to look after them and make sure Santa sends his reply before Christmas. Letters put in the red mailboxes will still receive a reply, but since they get sent to Vancouver, it may take longer.
“I can usually turn them around in a day. I was just down at the main post office here and they have a real nice box set up in the lobby,” said Otway. Letters should be in by Dec. 22, he continued, to give Santa enough time to reply.