The Christmas presents Lauren Collum asked Santa for 10 years ago were finally gifted to her last Thursday.
Collum, now 17, unwrapped a doll, red-and-white pom poms, a dog collar, a soccer ball, a bracelet and more at the Riverfront Antique Mall, where her letter to Santa written a decade ago lay unnoticed in a mailbox in a back room for all that time.
“I don't even remember writing it, but I guess it was there,” Collum said.
The mailbox, designed specifically for letters to Santa, was used years ago when the mall was a flea market. When the Christmas decorations came out, so did the mailbox, and children were encouraged to stuff it full of letters.
It sat buried in a back room for years until antique mall owner Ted Tilson asked his grandson to clean it up then put it on display.
His grandson found Collum's letter inside.
“That one there was left,” Tilson said, indicating the crumpled piece of notebook paper.
In addition to listing her Christmas wishes, Collum wrote down her name and Graniteville address. Tilson first turned to the post office to make sure Collum and her family still lived at the same address. The post office reported they did, but when Tilson visited the house, the family living there weren't the Collums.
“We called the sheriff's office, they gave us some leads, and they actually found the grandmother,” Tilson said.
The grandmother led them to Collum and her family.
Instead of simply throwing away the letter, instead of simply returning the letter to its author after all these years, Tilson took it one step further. He and Edie Conway purchased everything Collum asked for.
“The 'please, please, Santa' is what gets you. It was just something we did. There is no way to say it, we just did it,” he said.
Collum asked for a soccer ball because she enjoyed playing soccer. The dog collar was for the family dog Sheba, who passed away last year. She asked for red-and-white pom poms so she could cheer on the University of Georgia Bulldogs.
Tilson and Conaway could not find the pom poms in stores so they arrived special delivery. They said they had a hard time finding a soccer ball, too.
“It was like, 10 years ago. It's so cool that somebody actually cared enough to do something like that,” Collum said.
Collum's mother, Teresa, was blown away by the gesture.
“You had to realize it was old. That's sweet,” she said.
Even though Collum's younger siblings grabbed up the doll and soccer ball as soon as they were unwrapped, she said they won't get to keep them. She is going to hang on to the presents to someday give to her children.
“Everything has a reason and a purpose for happening,” Conway said. “There are Santas.”