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"Dear Santa, Starting today I am going to behave." — Rhea

"Dear Santa, I have been a good girl, or so says my mom and dad. I will be 5 next week. But you're Santa, so you already know that." — Logan

Every year, thousands of letters like these from all over Northern California wind up at the downtown Oakland Post Office.

And every year, Consumer Affairs Director Elma Ramirez and her trusty elves — Toni Harmon, Tim Wong, Rita Christobal, Brenda Presley, Janet Ezell, David Thompson and Carmen Boeche — separate them into two piles, one labeled "Needy" and the other labeled "Greedy," and ask the public to help answer them. (See below to find out how you can participate.)

Some are heartwarming. Some are heartbreaking. And some are just plain hilarious. Here's what our kids are thinking:

Dear Santa,

I really don't want nothing for Christmas. I would just like my younger siblings to have something to open. My mother tries hard, but she needs help. She doesn't have a job. I would like her to receive something for Christmas because she really tries to take care of all her kids. I hope this reaches Santa. If not, at least I tried. — Brianna

Dear Santa,

Do you have an e-mail address? If you do, please give it to me so we can send messages quicker. And do you have a phone number? If you do, give it to me so I can call you when you are not busy. — Love, Bella.

Dear Santa,

I am a good girl in school. I'm going to get 100 persent on my spelling test. — Love, Rosalinda

Dear Santa,

I'm sorry I was bad this year. It's because I'm getting older, but I'll always believe in you. All I want for Christmas is to spend some time with my dad. It makes me sad when I see everyone with their dads and makes me want to cry. I like to write to you because you understand me. — Sincerely, Alexis. P.S. Please write back.

Dear Santa,

Could I please get a Big Fat Piggie Bank? Make her pink with white polka dots and as fat as you can. I saw one at Marshall's, but Grandma said they may have a fatter one at Walgreen's. Thank you, Santa. — Love, Kayla

Dear Santa,

I know that at the moment you are stressed because Christmas is coming, but I hope you can read my letter. I have been a good boy all year. At the bottom is a signature that says that my parent/guardian agrees that I have been a good boy. Now that I have gone over the necessaries, her is my wish list. I list them in order of importance. (No signature)

Hi Santa.

I'm writing for my little brother because he is too small to write. He loves soccer. He plays with me every day and he is very good at it. He loves soccer balls and he likes soccer shoes, size 13. He also likes shorts. His size is 7 and his shirt size is large in little boys'. If U can't it's OK. I no you tried. — Sincerely, Jesus

Dear Santa,

I know I was kind of mean to Willow, but I tried my best this year. But I just can't ignore her, even though I know I should. What I want is expensive and very, very cool. I bet it's going to be a big fat NO! I want a mini motorcycle. You know, the kind that Jacqueline has. — Merry Chrismas, Summer

Dear Santa Claus,

My name is Iise. I have a little sister, Lizbeth. I'm 13 years old and she is 11 years old. We are writing this letter because we wish you can bring us something this Christmas. We need clothes and shoes. Thank you for reading our letter. We will be waiting for you. — Sincerely, Iise and Lizbeth

Dear Santa,

I hope you have a safe drive around the world. I've been good this year. I'm still working on being really nice to Eliza. I'm almost there. (No signature)

Dear Santa,

What I want to ask for is if you can give a little donation for our people in El Salvador. Please. These people are sleeping on streets. Kids are alone with no parents. Families are totally alone. Please, if you can send a little donation. — Thank you, Rosibel

Dear Santa,

I just wanted to tell you we won't be in Monterey for Christmas. We will be at Nanni's house in Genesee, New York. Please leave our presents in Monterey. We only want our stockings filled in Genesee. — From Ava

Dear Santa,

I wish for my two little brothers to have the toys they want and for my mom and us to have food. I hope it's not too much to ask. My mom only works half time. — Thank you, Selena

Dear Santa,

I'm 9 now, and I have a really strict teacher and I try really hard so I won't have to stay on the bench for a week. And when we all go in the classroom at math time, he yells because someone was behaving bad, and I get scared. Santa, if you have time, can you send me a letter back about what to do? — Your best friend, Jasmin

Dear Santa,

I am sorry, but my Christmas list has not been made. I'm not exactly sure how I've been. Overall, I think my record is pretty clean, even though I might have been bad sometimes. Don't worry, I really do believe in you. — Lots of love and Christmas spirit, Noah

Dear Santa,

How are you doing today? I have been a good little boy throughout the year. I would like it if you would send me a gift because my parents don't have a job so they can't afford to buy me one. Santa, I would love it if you can send me some clothes. My size is 2. Thank you Santa! — Love, Pedro

Dear Santa,

It's that time of year again. You know, I've been wanting to ask you some questions. First, do you know God? Second, how do you make your reindeer fly? Third, why do you live in the North Pole? Fourthly, who are your favorite elf and reindeer? Please write back. — Love, Tiana

Dear Santa Claus,

Boy, it's rainy here right now! How are you? Are Mrs. Claus and the reindeer doing well? My family and I are very well, and my puppy's first birthday is coming up soon. If I could have one wish this year, I would like you, Santa, to have a joyous holiday. — Love, Sophia

Dear Santa,

I forgot to tell you I love you. — Love, Conner.

Dear Santa,

My little sister is 2 years old. She wants a playhouse that has a kitchen and a fake phone. Can you bring it before 3 p.m. because my parents go to work then? — Love, Monserat

Want to be Santa's helper?
Thousands of children's letters to the big guy are waiting for you at the downtown Oakland Post Office.
All you have to do is call the Santa Hotline at 510-622-7420 or stop by the Post Office's Consumer Affairs Division at 201 13th Street, Room 228, in downtown Oakland, and they'll give you as many letters to answer as you want.
You don't necessarily have to enclose a present. "The children appreciate it so much just knowing that someone cares," Consumer Affairs Director Elma Ramirez says.
The need is greater than ever this year because of the recession.
"I've never seen anything like it," says Ramirez. "Lots of children are asking Santa to find a job for their mother or father." Your reward will be the knowledge that you've made a child's Christmas a little happier.
Every once in a while, there's an added plus. Last year, Tracey Haught of Walnut Creek sent a present to a little girl named Angelica, and a few days later she got a call from the shipper saying that Angelica had written Santa a thank-you letter.
That letter is now framed and hanging on Haught's wall. As it happens, Haught's birthday is Christmas Eve. "Best birthday present I ever got," she says.
Finally, if you'd like your own child to receive a letter from Santa, that can also be arranged.
Just write a letter to your child, put it in an envelope addressed to your child, and put a stamp on it. Then stick the envelope inside another one addressed to North Pole Holiday Postmark Postmaster 4141 Postmark Drive, Anchorage AK 99530-9998 (Yes, Santa has his own Zip code.)
A special unit at the Fairbanks Post Office will stamp your child's letter with a cancellation reading "North Pole" and mail it back.
Merry Christmas!