Santa will be busy this week reading the nearly 5,000 letters written by Cougar Valley Elementary students who participated in a special campaign to raise money for charity.
The letters were placed inside a large, red mailbox in the school cafeteria as part of Macy's Believe campaign, which donates $1 per letter to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Macy's has pledged to donate up to $1 million toward the foundation this year.
On average, the foundation grants the wish of a child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition every 38 minutes, according to the nonprofit's website.
At the end of the day on Tuesday, students had written 4,984 which means nearly $5,000 will be donated by the students of just one school.Two students alone wrote 630 letters between the both of them.
Lauren Heidt and Maddy Higgs, both 8, wanted to make sure that plenty of money was raised by their school through the campaign. While they did wish for one or two things for themselves, they mostly just wanted to write for a good cause.
"I just wanted to make kids' wishes come true," said Higgs. "This is the best day ever."
Both second-grade students said they also realized they are different than Make-A-Wish kids who may not be able to have a normal Christmas due to health conditions.
"Sometimes they might not have a life as long as we do," Heidt said.
While this year's letter collection surpassed the amount collected last year, the generosity of the students hasn't surprised staff. It certainly didn't surprise Kim Lakes-Loveless, the lunchroom assistant who invited the local Macy's staff to come out and support a letter drive.
She did, however, tear up when Higgs and Heidt handed her their plastic bag stuffed with letters to donate to the campaign. They had spent most of the previous two evenings writing out letters.
"There's a lot of kids that are struggling with their lives out there," said Lakes-Loveless."If we can change one or two lives with this donation, that's amazing."
For Lakes-Loveless, the event is personal and always touching. Her niece passed away at the age of 4, and, for her, it is a way of honoring a loved one who previously benefitted from Make-A-Wish. After seeing the Believe campaign information on television, the school employee decided to give it a try and bring Santa's mailbox to the school.
Cougar Valley Elementary is the only school in the county that participates actively in writing letters, said Ryan Ramoso, Kitsap Mall Macy's store manager.
"I think it's a phenomenal experience for the kids to experience it," he said. "If you read some of the letters, it's so heartwarming."
Some letters from students requested Santa bring cleaner water to foreign countries. Others just wanted to spend more time with their families. "Really, it's all about the children," Ramoso said of the campaign.
As a result of last year's campaigning, Ramoso said a little girl from the area had her wish granted to visit Japan. She wanted to visit Hello Kitty Land, he said.
The campaign started from a simple letter written in 1897. An 8-year-old girl named Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to the New York Sun newspaper asking about the existence of Santa Claus.
"The editor of the Sun, Francis P. Church replied, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist…”, according to the Macy's website. As a result, the Believe campaign started as a "national movement toward acts of kindness and goodwill toward others," states the site.
Children of all ages can drop their letters into the letterbox at any Macy's store. Now through Dec. 24, Macy's will donate $1 per letter to Make-A-Wish for Santa's letters.
"I'm so proud of you guys," Lakes-Loveless told her last lunchroom period students. "There are several children that will have their wishes granted (because of you)."