Melissa Phelps was 32 years old and still wrote to Santa Claus. On December 13, 2020, Santa gave her the two gifts she had requested – 10 days later Melissa was taken to Heaven.
When Melissa began preschool, she was diagnosed as high functioning developmentally disabled, and high functioning she was. She could tell you anything you wanted to know about the Red Sox and the Patriots. She loved to cook and bake and served regularly as a greeter in Holy Family Church of the Parish of the Good Shepherd. Everyone who was handed a hymnal by her as they entered the church, were uplifted by her joyful greeting.
Sometime after Thanksgiving 2020, Melissa wrote Santa asking for two gifts, “The Pioneer Woman Cookbook” and bones for her dogs. Three weeks later a FedEx box arrived at her door addressed to her. Inside were the cookbook and the bones. Melissa was over the moon with joy.
Some days before the arrival of these gifts she had broken her ankle, so she spent her recovery pouring over the book and trying the recipes. Days later, she developed the blood clots which caused her death. Her mother Candace had the consolation of knowing that Melissa had spent the last few days of her life enjoying Santa’s gifts.
The items sent to Melissa were donated by an individual through the U.S. Postal Service’s Operation Santa. Their website states, “We receive thousands of letters to Santa every year and have handled them for over a century. The letters are carefully sorted, scanned and posted here: https://www.uspsoperationsanta.com/ , with personal information hidden, of course. Generous people adopt the letters and find just the right gifts to help Santa fulfill their wishes. The gifts are shipped on behalf of the North Pole, and together we deliver holiday magic.”
Several months after Melissa’s death, Candace emailed the USPS Operation Santa contact expressing her gratitude for what had been done for Melissa, and she also accessed their website with the intention of making a child happy just as what was done for her daughter.
She found a letter which moved her, written by a five-year-old girl named Cindy, from the Bronx, N.Y., requesting a puppy. Candace again emailed the Operation Santa contact stating that she wished to give a gift to the girl who requested the puppy. She was informed that a video production company called Sweet World Films was doing a miniseries about the USPS program entitled “Dear Santa,” and that they might be interested in Melissa’s story.
After discussions with the producer of the show, it was decided that giving a puppy to the girl in the Bronx would make a fitting ending to Melissa’s story. The show’s producer offered to purchase a puppy, and Candace would provide the accessories (collar, lease, bedding and food).
Within a few weeks, Candace and the film crew were knocking on the girl’s door in the Bronx .
The director of the show entered first (of course the child’s mother had pre-approved), and asked Cindy what she wanted for Christmas. Without any hesitation, she answered, “a puppy.” Just then, Candace entered, dressed like an elf, told the girl that she was from Santa’s workshop, and gave her the puppy. Candace said that she had never seen a child so happy in all her life, and was gratified that Melissa’s memory would live on through that gift.
The death of a child is most devastating to a parent. Candace has endured the tragedy of Melissa's death through her strong faith – a faith in the Church and the love of Christ. Despite her sorrow at the loss of her child, she wanted to share Christ’s love with another through Operation Santa. She intends to do so again this year. You may wish to do the same.
Please look for the “Dear Santa” miniseries which is set to air on Hulu & ABC stations later this year.
By Deacon Ben LoCasto