A Pasco mail carrier is making her way through a light dusting of letters to Santa Claus this year, compared to the blizzard she's used to seeing.
By now, Lori Cramer, 29, typically would have collected 600 to 800 letters addressed to the North Pole. But by last week, she had just 110 letters neatly organized on her kitchen table.
"They usually are still flooding in, but nothing," she said.
It's probably not because kids believe less in the jolly old elf.
Cramer thinks the letters are ending up farther north now that the U.S. Postal Service moved its mail handling operations from Pasco to Spokane this summer.
Even though there are fewer, Cramer still is touched by them.
And now she has more time to help Santa respond with a more personalized letter to kids. Each letter is signed from "Santa, Mrs. Claus, the elves and reindeer."
This year, children are asking Santa for ever popular Legos, as well as pricier gifts like iPads and iPods and video games like Skylanders.
Many of them are honest in the letters -- knowing that Santa sees everything.
"I have been 80 percent good this year," said Destinee, who wants a blanket featuring boy band One Direction.
Jacob, 6, admits lying to his mother a couple of times, but said he has made up for it by drawing her pictures, getting her sodas to drink and finding her pennies.
He told Santa that he didn't have to bring him a gift for his Nov. 26 birthday, just presents for Christmas.
"I promise I will not lie to her anymore," Jacob wrote.
There have been a couple letters from families who have fallen on hard times.
One that was particularly moving came from Gustavo, 8, who "would like some pants and jackits (sic) if that's not too much to ask" for himself and his sister.
He also asked for a Christmas dinner for his family. That sent Cramer's elves into motion.
"I have somebody helping from the post office, and she's working on that right now," she said.
Cramer normally gets about 10 letters from families dealing with hardships. In past years, she's been out with her helpers on Christmas Eve trying to get presents in time for Christmas.
She likes to think the drop in requests for help from Santa is related to an improving economy.
The decline in letters for Cramer means more for Linda Sundstrom, postmaster in Troy, Idaho, east of Moscow. She has been answering letters forwarded to her for four years from the Spokane mail handling center.
"I have been noticing Pasco, Kennewick, Richland addresses," she said. "A lot of the little towns around there too."
Sundstrom expects to see about 800 letters this year. That's about the same number she answered last year when there was a longer Christmas season because Thanksgiving was earlier.
Sundstrom says she is able to give more personal responses to the kids who write earlier.
But as Christmas draws closer, she uses templates that give different responses.
"They get a note that says Mrs. Claus put it on the refrigerator," she said.
The meaning of what she does was driven home for her after she opened a letter to Santa sent after last year's school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
The writer was having a hard time understanding the shooting, which left 26 children and school staff dead.
"I had to stop and say if every one of us can do something good, like responding to these letters, then good overcomes evil," Sundstrom said. "My good is keeping the idea alive that somebody else cares about you."
In the Tri-Cities, Cramer, along with her husband, mom, sister and daughter, has been responding to the letters to Santa for about a decade, picking up for a group of postal workers who had been answering them, but disbanded.
She said she's saddened to not see the letters that she'd been getting from the same kids over the years.
Her daughter, Sara, 12, wishes there were more.
"It's kind of weird, 'cause every year, we get a lot," said Sara. "Normally, we get more pictures."
Cramer remembers one girl who would make a painting for Santa every year, and a boy who always sent his school picture.
They've received letters from as far away as Florida, but this year the most distant one came from Portland. She gets them as early as March.
Fewer letters has brought at least one gift for Cramer.
"It's a change, but I always try to look at the positive," she said. "Everything happens for a reason, and this allows me more time with my family."
w Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; email@example.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom