USPS Blacks Out Steve Albini's Christmas Charity

Steve Albini
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When sound engineer Steve Albini isn’t producing albums, shredding a guitar in Shellac, writing songs, leaving comments on Paste reviews or tending to any of his other right-brain hobbies, he and his wife, Heather Whinna, dedicate their holiday season to helping Chicago’s needy households. Every year, according to the Chicago Tribune, they raise around $100,000 via an annual Second City fundraiser, and then pack the proceeds into a van in the form of toys, clothing, computers, grocery-store gift certificates and cash, all to be delivered Santa-style on Christmas Day to less-fortunate families.

Albini’s charity has worked quite nicely over its 10-year run, but this season the U.S. Postal Service has decided to sprinkle a “Bah, Humbug!” onto all the Christmas cheer. Albini and Whinna obtained the addresses of their needy families through the USPS’ Letters to Santa program, a process that is now completely stonewalled thanks to their new policy. Rather than the USPS handing out their letters to Santa directly to potential donors, postal workers will only give out photo copies of the letters with the sender’s information, names, addresses and phone numbers blacked out.

The policy is meant to protect those writing Santa, assuring their information doesn’t fall in the hands of people with malicious intentions. It was enacted after a convicted sex offender in Maryland retrieved a letter written to Santa by a young girl, according to Chicago’s Postal Service spokesman Mark Reynolds. The man never got the chance to contact the young girl, fortunately.

Albini and Whinna still believe the Postal Service is overreacting, mainly because the couple only reads letters written by adults, not children. Whinna doesn’t see why the addresses of adult writers should be blacked out. “Try to imagine how desperate you’d have to be to write a letter to an anonymous Santa asking for help,” Albini told the The Tribune. “That’s how desperate people are. I hope the post office can be made to see how much damage they’re doing and change their policy.”

“We know it’s a holiday tradition,” Reynolds said about the new policy. “We want to keep that tradition alive. But we want to make sure everyone’s security is in place. We wanted to eliminate to the fullest extent possible any potential problems.”

The Postal Service will now handle the donations to letter writers themselves. Those looking to give will be directed to fill out a form, after which they can bring their package to the post office. Donators, after covering the shipping cost, then rely on the post office to send their gifts in a timely fashion.

Whinna thinks the idea of mailing gifts is humorous, seeing that a few of the apartments they’ve visited had no working mailboxes. Larger packages set on doorsteps, meanwhile, run the risk of being stolen.

Albini and Whinna are now banking on nonprofits like the Jane Addams Hull House Association to find families.

“People have all kinds of bad luck, and there are only a small number of ways they can be helped through institutional programs or government programs,” Albini said about his charity. “With us, people don’t have to stand in line, fill out forms or justify themselves to a bureaucrat.”