Santa and his elves bring Christmas joy to Horry County family

Jolly ol’ St. Nick was reduced to tears by 8-year-old Jenacia Bellamy.

The North Pole’s most popular resident got an early start on his Christmas rounds by stopping in Bucksport on Friday with a delivery for Jenacia and her 5-year-old brother, Melik Pendergrast.

Santa was especially touched by a letter Bellamy sent to him, and enlisted his other holiday helpers at the Conway Post Office to make sure Bellamy and her entire family had a Christmas to remember.

This is the 100th year Santa has teamed up with his friends at the U.S. Postal Service for its “Letters to Santa” program. Mail carriers read the letters before forwarding them on to the North Pole.

Sometimes, a letter really touches Santa’s heart and he and his postal friends swing into action

Jenacia’s letter said “mom has no money for shoes or jackets for us.” The 8-year-old also told Santa her dad died when she was a baby and her brother’s father is in jail.

“Can you please visit me and make this a happy Christmas?” Jenacia asked.

Judging by the smiles and tears, Santa’s visit fulfilled that request.

Santa, sans sleigh and reindeer, got a suitable escort to the family’s home, hitching a ride with members of the Bucksport Fire Station while officers with the Horry County Police Department followed behind.

The neighborhood children were awestruck at the sight of that red suit and white beard. Many got right down to the business of telling Santa just what they wanted for Christmas.

After chatting with them and belting out a few “Ho-Ho-Ho’s,” Santa headed into the home of Brenda and Thomas Hemingway, Jenacia’s and Melik’s grandparents.

When Jenacia says “mom,” she’s referring to her grandmother. Hemingway and her husband have raised the two small children along with five teenagers.

Santa assured the two young ones that they’ve been on his good list every year. Jenacia got high marks for maintaining honor student status at the Academy of Hope charter school.

A plethora of wrapped packages were brought into the house, as were two boxes containing a ham and all the necessary trimmings for that perfect holiday feast.

Jenacia shed tears of joy, but the real emotion came through when she read her letter to Santa in person.

Then, St. Nick shed a tear, too.

Jenacia won’t know just how many of her wishes Santa fulfilled until Christmas morning, when she and Melik could finally open the packages he and his elves dropped off last week.

So, how did Santa coordinate this holiday miracle?

Conway postal worker Tamera Runyon was part of the solution. She helped collect donations from her co-workers at the post office and her part-time job at the Coastal Grand mall JCPenney to make sure the children had their toys, shoes and jackets.

“When I read [the letter], it just broke my heart,” Runyon said.

The packages were loaded into Runyon’s van on a chilly Friday afternoon, and the caravan began its journey to rendezvous with Santa and then deliver those gifts.

And while these postal carriers helped answer one of those letters to Santa, South Carolina isn’t actually a formal participant in the USPS’ official Letters to Santa program. There are only 20 of those nationwide, a drop of 75 from 2011 as the struggling postal service suffered an annual loss of almost $16 billion this year.

Still, Jenacia’s letter made its way up the chain of command before being filtered back down to the Conway branch and those caring employees.

Harry Spratlin, communications director for the USPS greater S.C. district, said all the Santa letters wind up in Cayce for postal workers to go through before sending them on to Santa. He then sends a response card to all the children who used a return address.

Spratlin said the district handles over 2,000 Santa letters a year.

And this year, one such letter brought a lot of joy to a Grand Strand family.

“I’m so touched right now,” Brenda Hemingway said.

Santa was, as well.

“Christmas is a good time for us to celebrate and love one another,” he said. “Merry Christmas.”