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12-year-old shares dream with other children with ‘Letters to Santa’ mailbox

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SHELLEY — A 12-year-old girl is sharing her dream with other children in Shelley by putting a big red mailbox with Christmas lights out for everyone to see and send their written letters to Santa Claus.

“It all started when I was really young. My grandma had the biggest Christmas spirit, and she would say, ‘Whenever it’s Christmas, just remember me!’” said Annalei Judy.

Annalei’s grandma passed away a few years ago. Annalei is doing what she can to keep her spirit alive.

“After a few years, we (my mom and I) went to Lowe’s and saw the Santa mailbox, and I’m like, ‘Mom, I will do chores if you can buy this for me. I just want to put it out in the middle of Shelley so all the kids in Shelley, Idaho, can see,’” said Annalei.

Annalei’s mother, Jerda Judy, bought the $120 mailbox that says ‘Letters to Santa’ on it. Annalei did the chores necessary to pay off the mailbox so she could share it with the community and spread holiday cheer.

“More than anything, I am just proud of her. She has such a big heart, and she just wants everybody to be able to love Christmas like she does. She’s just a pretty amazing sweetheart,” said Jerda.

Annalei asked a close friend, Sandi McKinlay, if she could put the mailbox outside of her business at Sweet Life Nutrition. McKinlay was thrilled about the idea.

“(Her business) is right in the middle of Shelley, and lots of people see it right when they are driving by,” said Annalei.

The mailbox for Santa has been a big success. In fact, this year will be the second year the Santa mailbox has been out for children to drop off their written letters.

“I have been telling all the kids around my school, ‘Hey I just put up a Santa mailbox so you can send letters to Santa.’ I wrote a letter personally to Santa. I sent it last year and I said, ‘Santa, I just put up a mailbox, I was wondering if your elves or you could go to my mailbox and check on the letters and get the letters out?’” said Annalei. “Maybe about a week later, I got a letter from Santa, and he’s like, ‘I checked on the letters. You are certified to put your mailbox in Shelley, Idaho. Thank you for doing this, you are such a kind person.’”

McKinlay told she watches over the mailbox outside of her business. She said there were about 300 letters put in the mailbox last year. Santa Claus writes back to children who write their address on the letter. Letters come back to children with peppermint oil on them as if they’re from the North Pole.

“My favorite part is when you watch the children (drop off the letters), and you see the excitement and joy in their eyes, and then you see the parents who are getting to share that experience with their children and just being part of the magic,” said McKinlay.

Annalei said Christmas is her favorite holiday, and she is excited that kids use the mailbox she has put out for them.

“It makes me feel like the happiest person I could ever be!” she said.

McKinlay said Santa won’t be taking letters past Dec. 20 because he has to have time to write back and send letters to children in Shelley.

A Facebook page called “Shelley Santa Mailbox” has updates, and people in the community can share holiday cheer by posting pictures and writing their experiences.

The mailbox is outside Sweet Life Nutrition at 224 South State Street in Shelley. Kids that write letters can address the letter to “Santa, North Pole.”

“I think it’s going to be a yearly tradition that we are just going to carry on,” said McKinlay.