By Jill Colvin
MIDTOWN — One little girl sent a letter to Santa Claus asking for gloves, a winter hat, and a Hannah Montana sweater because her mother couldn’t afford them.
"Santa, my mom is sick. She can’t buy me nothing this year," 10-year-old Jeanette wrote in the letter, which she signed with little hearts.
But instead of landing in Santa’s lap all the way up in the North Pole, Jeanette's letter arrived at Farley Post Office in Midtown, to be answered — not by elves — but by generous New Yorkers.
"Part of the joy of this time of year is the joy of sharing and caring and giving," said Queens resident Helen Chin, 29, who arrived at Farley Thursday with a stack of brightly wrapped presents, including a pair of winter boots for a 3-year-old who'd listed footwear, not toys, as the only item on her list.
"It just breaks your heart," Chin said.
For 70 years, the United States Postal Service's "Operation Santa" has been making letters sent to Santa available to volunteers like Chin, who try to grant kids' wishes on Santa's behalf. Volunteers must donate both the gifts and the postage, but never know the recipient's last name or address.
This season, program director and "Head Elf" Pete Fontana estimated the branch had received a record 2 million letters — 200,000 to 300,000 more than last year.
"The need is greater," said Fontana, who added that many more of the letters have asked for basic necessities, including clothing, food, a place to live and help paying bills.
Upper West Side writer Stephanie Brandt, 59, who goes by a pen name, said she forfeited her Christmas gift and instead asked her sister to give her $150 to spend on the project.
"I just thought this was the year to do it," she said. "There are so many people who need so much more."
Brandt said as she sorted through piles of letters in a post office back room decorated for the holidays.
"I'm waiting to find the letter that really resonates with me," she said.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, video game consoles like Nintendo Wiis, DSs and PlayStations topped many lists, as did big-ticket items such as iPads and laptops. One kid with a knack for adventure asked for a surf board and spy kit.
But many others letters came from disappointed children who said their parents had lost their jobs and were struggling to make ends meet.
"This year, my mommy and daddy don't have much money to spend on Christmas gifts, so I am writing to you," wrote 11-year-old Jorge, who promised Santa and his elves that he'd "been a good boy."
Ella, 10, said her parents were overwhelmed with bills and couldn't afford to buy her a hand-held DS.
"We were hoping that you can give us presents even if we don't have a Christmas tree," she wrote.
Reading through her own stack of letters Thursday, Harlem's Alicia Harris, 22, was shocked by the number of kids asking for the most basic necessities, including coats and boots.
"That’s what really got me," she said. "It’s really sad, all of these piles of paper."
Harris decided to spend her Christmas bonus buying the gifts.
"I could buy another pair of Uggs, but being able to help someone else with it, I think that's more rewarding than some new shoes," she said.
Kids also weren't the only ones writing to Santa.
One 45-year-old mom wrote a letter from a shelter asking for something for her sons, Brian and Leo, 14, and 7.
On their wish list: boots, sneakers and jeans for one and a bicycle, guitar and drums for the other.
"They're both great kids," she assured.
Another older fan asked St. Nick to help him find a job.
"Please send me my dream of being a surgical technician," the person wrote.
He signed the letter, "Yours truly, not to[o] old to believe."