Santa’s secret helpers answer the mail in State College area

Eight-year-old Talia wants a new doll.

Josselyn, 8, is hoping for a skateboard. Either that, or an iPhone.

They are among dozens of local children who have shared their dreams of tablets, toys, video games and more with Santa Claus. Their letters stuff a special mailbox in downtown State College with a direct line to the North Pole.

Inside The Corner Room restaurant, at a booth in the back, a special group of elves toil a few nights a week to help Santa respond to all those children.

Members of the State College Sunrise Rotary Club are, as they put it, managing Santa’s mailbox during the holiday season.

“I think it’s exciting and important for the kids,” said Carol Baney, co-chair of the event, who was sorting through letters Tuesday evening.

“I want to know if you are red,” one girl wrote to Santa.

Another, Maggie, wants to be surprised by what she gets for Christmas. She thanked Santa for his hard work.

But at least some of the responsibility is being shouldered by his helpers with the Rotary Club.

Marce Pancio, another co-chair of the event, is used to being an elf. Her father filled Santa’s suit for 14 years in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, she said.

“I kinda really am an elf,” she said. “I really thought he was the real Santa.”

Pancio, who has been involved in the letter-writing event here for 20, said it was a natural way to continue her work as Santa’s helper.

“We think it’s great for the community,” she said. “We want to give back, and this is (a great way to do it).”

Pancio said the group could see between 400 and 500 letters, maybe more, because for the first time a box will be set up at the Festival of Trees.

Families can still get letters to Santa by dropping them off at a repurposed U.S. postal mailbox outside The Corner Room or by mailing them to the State College Sunrise Rotary, P.O. Box 1133, State College, PA 16804.

If the dozens of letters they were sorting Tuesday was any indication, the Rotary group will be busy until the December 20 deadline.

But it wasn’t just children reaching out to Santa on Tuesday. One Rotary member received a letter from a Penn State senior from Bangkok.

“Dear Santa, if you exist,” the letter started.

The student asked St. Nick for a special gift — to see her parents for the holidays.

“Thank you for whatever you bring,” one young boy wrote. “P.S., you are awesome.”