Jim Glaub and Dylan Parker were getting ready to spend their first Christmas living together in their Manhattan apartment on 22nd Street when their mailbox started filling up with letters addressed to Santa Claus — letters that would lead to a global giving movement.
Having lived in the Chelsea apartment for nearly three years before Parker moved in, Glaub thought nothing of it when that first letter to little St. Nick arrived. He had been warned by the previous tenants that the address had been mistakenly receiving Santa’s mail for at least five years prior.
“They never answered them because it was only three or four letters a year,” Glaub, 36, tells PEOPLE. “And the first two years I lived there, it was that exact thing. I’d get three letters and I didn’t really think anything of it. I was like, ‘Oh, sorry — wrong number.’ “
But that year was different. It was 2010, and the couple — who have now been married for four years — watched the letters grow with each visit from the mailman.
By the time Christmas rolled around, nearly 450 letters had arrived at their doorstep.
Neither Glaub nor Parker, 35, had any idea why the number of letters had suddenly spiked or how their address was chosen as the East Coast bureau of the North Pole. But there was a common thread in all the letters — they each came from families in need living in their very city.
“These were our neighbors in the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan… these were our people,” Glaub says. “I just felt this need to help them.”
That year, the two set out on a mission to get every letter filled — taking to social media and spreading the word about the letters amongst their family and friends. Seeing the story, filmmaker-friends Sarah Klein and Tom Mason did a short film on the pair and their cause for her production company, Redglass Pictures. It was picked up by The New York Times.
They were able to get 150 letters fulfilled of the 450 they received in 2010. But for the past six years, the letters haven’t stopped. And even though Glaub and Dylan have long since moved out from their apartment rental, they’ve dedicated each holiday season to making sure the families in need who write to Santa have their wishes granted.
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So far, not a single letter has gone unanswered — with people from all over the country and the world swooping in to help.
The letters are mostly assigned via word of mouth — though a “Miracle on 22nd Street” Facebook group set up to help manage the distributions has greatly helped, especially since the pair are now living in London. (Glaub is in touch with the apartment’s current tenant each year to help collect the letters, and a friend locally scans each letter for recording.)
“It’s just so strange! It’s caused this global effort!” Glaub, a marketing executive, says. “We’ve had people from Hawaii to Alaska, Germany to London, Nicaragua, Abu Dhabi, Tokyo — all helping. I guess that’s the power of social media. Why would a woman from Abu Dhabi care about some family from Corona, Queens? It’s amazing.”
“I think that suggests we are all looking for that connection to something bigger,” adds Parker.
The letters range from lighthearted to serious. The majority are handwritten, while others are typed and include playful illustrations. The items requested are practical — winter clothing, toys, blankets and footwear. Occasionally, there’s an ask for a video game console thrown in there. Milk and cookies are often promised to be waiting for Santa on Christmas morning.
One letter in particular has stayed with Glaub over the years. It was from a boy who said he hoped Santa would deliver him a bed. “That was like a punch in the gut,” he recalls.
There’s no rulebook to how one answers each letter. Some participants fulfill all the requests, while others just get what they can. Glaub’s heard stories about in-person bonds formed between families and their letter-answerers. “I have a group of friends who have had their family now for four years or something.” he says. “It’s just nonstop crazy stories.”
This year has brought the couple over 300 letters as of this article’s publication. They have roughly 50 that still need fulfilling.
On years when there weren’t enough letters to go around, the couple pointed friends to Operation Santa — a project run by the United States Postal Service to help letters written to the man in red get answered.
To this day, Glaub and Parker still don’t know how their Chelsea address was picked. Years ago, they explored patterns and connections in the letters — thinking it may have started in a faculty newsletter or church group. There was also speculation that it could be traced back to The Night Before Christmas author Clement Clarke Moore, whose estate was nearby. He had received letters written to Santa after the publication of his classic poem in the 1800s.
While the couple understands the curiosity of knowing how this all began, they have stopped asking those questions themselves.
“When I look back, I am most surprised about how skeptical I was and how narrowly focused I was on myself,” Parker, who works in scientific publishing, admits: “Perhaps it’s just from getting older since the project started, but I’ve learned that contributing to something greater than ourselves — even if it is something unknown — leads to far more happiness and sense of purpose than solely focusing on our own desires.”
He continues: “That’s not exactly a huge revelation, but this optimizes that lesson at a time when people are often the most giving and the most willing to trust that their generosity will help make someone else’s day just a bit better. It requires that we put ourselves second momentarily to help someone unknown to us, and without the usual gratification of seeing the outcome or receiving thanks. The act of giving itself has to be enough.”
One things for sure – as long as letters keep coming, Glaub and Parker will work to get them answered. “Now it’s gotten to the point where we can’t not do it,” Glaub says. “We have to do it. It’s just part of our lives.”
To get involved with Glaub and Parker’s inspiring project, visit the “Miracle on 22nd Street” Facebook group.