Santa’s helper Bob Otway (right) and his assistant Cal Hornby (left) check out letters mailed to Santa Claus. For 19 years

Santa’s helper Bob Otway (right) and his assistant Cal Hornby (left) check out letters mailed to Santa Claus. For 19 years

Santa’s helper in Penticton still loves what he does

Bob Otway has spent nearly two decades co-ordinating responses to kids' letters to Santa

Next year, Bob Otway will have spent two decades helping to keep the story of Santa Claus alive for children in the South Okanagan and Similkameen.

Otway, and a number of his friends, lend Santa a hand each year by answering hundreds of the letters kids write to the man in red every year. And after 19 years of letters, he said, children have much the same desires they did when he started.

Most, he said, just ask for whatever the new toys are, and there are always those who ask Santa to make sure he delivers to the needy. But there are always a few that stand out, like one child who wasn’t leaving anything to chance in their letter.

“It was five pages. They got the catalogue and they clipped all the things out and pasted them on,” said Otway. “One little girl asked for all the money in the world. Not a million bucks, but all the money.”

No matter what the child asks for, Santa makes no promises. Canada Post supplies form letters with a message from Santa, but Otway does like to make the letters personal for the child.

“It’s just fun to do. We read every letter and if the letters have anything we can comment on, we make sure on the postscript to mention it,” said Otway.

If the child tells Santa they have been helping around the house, they might get a message that Santa is really happy they helped do chores. Or if they mention their pet, Santa might tell them how much he likes its name.

Canada Post has a list of suggested phrases to write to the kids but Otway likes to make some more personal ones, like telling the kids that Mrs. Claus is just off baking some chocolate cookies for Santa and the elves, or that she has hung the card the child made up on the fireplace.

“It doesn’t take long. We maybe spend maximum two hours a day,” said Otway. “We can’t wait to get to the post office and get them in the mail, because you can just see the smiles on the kids’ faces when they get a letter from Santa Claus.

“We’re commenting on what they say in the letter and I can see the parents going, look, it’s Santa Claus, he knows you help with the chores.”

Last year the crew answered 1,109 e-mails, though Otway said that number includes Princeton and Summerland. This year, postal staff in Princeton is handling the letters, and some other retired postal workers are taking care of that community.

Penticton accounted for 700 letters of those 1,100 e-mails, and Otway said his team has handled about 500 already in the first two weeks of December. No stamp is necessary. All a child needs to do is address their letter to Santa Claus at the North Pole, Canada, postal code H0H 0H0 and drop it in the regular mailbox or in the special one at Santa’s outpost in Cherry Lane Shopping Centre.