It was five weeks until Christmas, and the letters were already piling up. There were more than a dozen by the third Friday in November, and they were all addressed to Santa.
Tina and Jim Moore admit they peeked at a few. One of the envelopes contained not only a letter but a homemade ornament.
“It was personalized by someone just for Santa,” Jim said. “It’s pretty amazing what people do.”
A point of attention on Waldemire Drive in Northeast Philadelphia these days is the big red mailbox in front of the Moore house. Tina and Jim noticed a similar one nearby a few years ago, so they conspired this holiday season to battle their COVID-19 blues with an interactive display of their own.
You drop your notes to Santa — with a self-addressed, stamped envelope — into the special mailbox by Dec. 19, and Santa will write back by Christmas Eve.
You can’t miss their big red box with “Letters for Santa” printed on the front. It sits under a metal arch of red lights and green garland and between giant red candy canes and large boxes painted as presents.
What to tell the kids? Say that the Moores volunteered to streamline Santa’s local mail delivery this year.
“This is an old-school neighborhood,” said Tina Moore, 33, who grew up with her parents, Joe and Donna Scipione, around the corner. She graduated from Archbishop Ryan High in 2005 and Holy Family University after that. She works in administration at the Navy Yard.
“We like to share, do things together in the community,” Tina said of her husband, parents, and sons, Gabriel, 6, and Aaron, 4.
Providing the mailbox gives them an attachment to their neighbors during this time of social disconnect, she said. It’s how things are here, just south of Woodhaven Road and tucked between Academy and Knights Roads.
“It’s a labor of love,” Tina said.
Tina Moore is not one for sitting around. She’s president of the home and school association at Our Lady of Calvary School, and she and Jim like to arrange neighborhood trips to Eagles games and pitch in at the church’s Christmas bazaar. If something good is happening along Waldemire Drive, Tina is likely to be involved.
Jim Moore, 33, grew up in Manayunk and graduated from Roman Catholic High and Temple. He’s a pharmacist at Temple University Hospital, is active with the Roman Catholic alumni and charities, and coaches three sports at the nearby Parkwood Youth Organization. He was a football coach at Roman Catholic for years.
Jim said he and his father-in-law, Joe, created the mailbox and other parts of the display because they wanted something positive to show for their down time during the pandemic. There have been no trips to Eagles games this year, no neighborhood parties, no parades or picnics.
Like Tina, Jim is a doer. He misses pulling the boys around town in their wagon, fooling around at baseball practice, and the many other things that have been put on hold due to the pandemic.
“We’re all sad now, so we wanted a purpose-driven thing so we could feel like we accomplished something,” Jim said. “And we wanted to do something for other people.”
Jim and Joe kicked things off in October when they used spare wood and leftover paint to build props for a Halloween display. Gabriel and Aaron dressed up as characters from the video game Minecraft, so the men created giant building blocks like those players use in the game to make structures and earthworks.
As Christmas approached, they turned the blocks into huge presents and a square-headed Grinch. They added lights and an inflatable Santa. But the mailbox is the big draw.
“Cars slow down to look at it,” said neighbor Sheila Picinich. “It’s how this neighborhood works together as a family. We try to make the environment comfortable. Tina and Jim do that hard work. We believe that it takes a neighborhood to raise a family.”
Tina is spreading the word about the mailbox on Facebook, inviting anyone who can’t drop off their letters to mail them to her address, and they will deposit them in Santa’s box. She has already heard from people in Connecticut and Maryland.
Almost 500 shares and 45 comments have piled up on Facebook. Most people are grateful for the Moores’ community spirit and impressed by their creativity.
One Facebook commenter wrote, “I don’t know you, but you guys are wonderful people! So awesome!”
Another wrote, “We dropped a letter off earlier! My daughter was literally mesmerized by the fact she went to an “official” Santa mailbox and even checked out the lock on the box! And the little buckets of candy on the side! THANK YOU for doing this! Tears!”
Tina and Jim can’t wait to see how many letters Santa gets. And they can’t wait until Santa sits down to answer them. And just in case Santa can’t get to all the letters (wink, wink), Tina and Jim said they (and their family and friends) will write back on the Big Guy’s behalf. They know he’ll be touched by the sincerity and innocence of the letters’ authors.
“They really needed this!!!” one Facebook writer said about their children. “PS, they are 8 and 11 and the love and belief for Santa is still there. I cant thank you enough for having this!!!”
Tina said she looks forward to checking the mailbox for new arrivals. The more work for Santa, the better.
“Neighbors take pictures. People get cheered up,” she said. “There are no negatives. You can forget for 20 minutes how it’s been hard.”