Sadie, Parke, Max, Amy and Ryan Parsons stand by their Santa mailbox outside of their home.
In a Jacksonwald art teacher's home right here in Exeter, holiday magic happens every night between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Here, Mrs. Amy Parsons lives with her husband, Ryan, who works as an estimator for Independence Steel, and her three children, Max (6th grade), Parke (4th grade) and Sadie (2nd grade). And here, for the past four years, children from all around Exeter and beyond trek with their families to the top of Church Lane Road to the Parson's front yard at 1004 Hartman Road to mail or drop off letters to Santa in a special mailbox they had installed in their front yard during 2020. The mailbox, which is a brightly-colored vintage red and is adorned with twinkling lights and garland, was placed there by request by the big jolly man himself during the height of the COVID pandemic when social-distancing restrictions meant he wasn't able to see as many children in-person at malls, stores, Christmas tree farms and other places around town. Reaching out for help, Santa asked the Parsons if they could assist him in collecting letters, and from there, a new Exeter holiday tradition began.
During the past four years, as word has spread around the community, social media and the local news, the Parsons family has seen their collection grow from about 100 to 400 letters, some coming as far away as Florida and South Dakota. On their way to Santa, Ryan and Amy will take some time to read each one before Santa responds--a process that takes about a week depending on how many letters are received each day. "There are definitely letters that have made us cry and many that have made us laugh," said Amy, recalling letters that asked for a real dinosaur, a Christmas tree that makes snowmen come to life, or a door that would make someone invisible when they walked through it. But she also shared that some letters are difficult to read, too. "Some letters have shared how families are losing their homes and don't think there will be much of a Christmas. There have been letters that have shared that a beloved family member is very ill and asking Santa to do anything he can to help them get better. There are also letters from people who feel so sad that they can't be themselves because they are bullied and made fun of."
Thanks to some known and not-known elves, the Parsons have been able to also offer gift cards at their mailbox for those who may need one (or an encouragement to leave one if the visitor is so inclined). They've also been blessed with donations of stamps, calligraphy markers, stationery, envelopes and more to help Santa respond to each child's letter. This year, thanks to donations from friends, neighbors and a local organization called Connections Work, they're proud to also include a free library stocked full of children's holiday books that visitors may borrow and return.
Too humble to take credit for helping Santa with the letters, Ryan and Amy, who spend much of their time outside of work during the year volunteering with community youth organizations, including sports teams, Cub Scouts or the Jacksonwald APT, are quick to acknowledge the donations, support and help they receive from the community, friends, neighbors and their family--including their own children who eagerly collect the letters each day to give to their elf, "Buddy," who personally delivers them to the North Pole and brings back answered letters the following morning. "We are truly honored to be able to do this for so many families. Many kid letters are accompanied by a parent letter explaining how their child is starting to question Santa, but we are helping them get another year or two of them believing," said Amy. Continuing, she wraps up the spirit of the season by simply saying, "Our family absolutely loves doing this and has given us so much more back than we have ever imagined."
How to get your letter to Santa:
Letters to Santa can be mailed or hand delivered to the mailbox in the Parsons' front yard. Their address is 1004 Hartman Road; Reading, PA 19606.
How long will it take to receive a response from Santa?
About a week, depending on the number of letters the Parsons receive each day. Please make sure a return address is included in your original letter.
Do you need to celebrate Christmas to send a letter to Santa?
No! Santa answers letters from children, adults (and even pets) who celebrate a variety of different holidays during December.
Can I help the Parsons?
Yes! People may donate books for their library, gift cards for those in need or supplies to help Santa write his responses. Donations can be dropped off in person or mailed. The Parsons also have an Amazon Wishlist here that will magically allow your purchase to travel to the North Pole: https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/1A77EKSIVGIM9?ref_=wl_share