Letters to Santa

The front yard of the Pitoniaks’ Bethel Park home

On an unseasonably warm December day, Jill Pitoniak took the opportunity to enjoy some time sitting outside her Bethel Park home.

At one point, two cars pulled up to the front curb, and out came several children brimming with excitement.

“One of the little kids was actually jumping up and down, saying, ‘We’re here! We’re here!’” Pitoniak said. “He was thrilled to come here to mail his letter, and that made me feel really good.”

She may not be affiliated with the U.S. Postal Service, but she’s fulfilling a vital correspondence-related mission this Christmas: providing a mailbox with, as far as the youngsters are concerned, a direct line to the North Pole.

The Letters to Santa mailbox at 1069 Highfield Road complements to “little library” boxes in the front yard, all part of a memorial garden in honor of her late son, Baby Braydon.

Letter to Santa

As Santa was traveling back to the North Pole with some letters, this one must have fallen out of his sleigh. One of Santa's awesome elves found it and brought it back to Santa.

With the adverse circumstances of most of 2020 casting somewhat of a pall on the holiday season, Pitoniak decided to do something special to brighten young spirits.

“The kids are sad. They miss their friends. They can’t go see Santa. There are just so many things that they’re missing out on,” she said.

She encourages parents to include a self-addressed stamped envelope with the letters so that children can receive replies.

“We have some volunteers helping out, offering to respond to them,” she said, adding she has received donations of Christmas-themed writing paper, stamped envelopes and other essentials.

The largesse of the folks she calls her “awesome elves” is all part of what this time of year always has meant to her.

“I think people are a little different around Christmastime,” she said. “I think they’re more generous. People are more kind. They’re trying to make sure that people are OK.”

As far as generosity, Pitoniak is a person for all seasons.

Greyson and Santa

Greyson Pitoniak seems to be a bit reluctant to have his photo taken with Santa Claus.

In the spring, she installed a pair of “little libraries,” one each for children and adults, where readers can drop off books and pick up new ones. Attached to the post of one is a sign designating Baby Braydon’s Memorial Library Garden.

“I like to do things in his memory,” she said, and that has included blanket collection for donations to mothers at West Penn Hospital who are experiencing situations similar to hers. “Usually, that’s what I do, but because of COVID, I couldn’t.”

Collecting letters to Santa, though, continually is putting a smile on her face, as is enjoying Christmas with her husband, Mike, and children, Michael, 21; Jacob, 11; and Greyson, 3.

Contact Jill Pitoniak at Coffee9hazelnut@yahoo.com about supporting her Letters to Santa project.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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