Santa's hotline to be routed through nursing home residents, staff at North Pole substation

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While some policy wonks might spend next week pushing for favorable decisions out of Congress before members flee for their winter recess, one long-term care operator will be working with even higher authorities: Santa and Mrs. Claus. Staff and residents at Pine Heights in Brattleboro, VT, will be fielding children's calls made directly to the jolly pair Monday through Friday. Residents who will handle calls to The Ho, Ho Hotline attended Ho, Ho Academy training Thursday in order to prepare for questions they might hear. They also were visited by a local toy department manager who showed them what this year's popular kids' items are.

Children anywhere who wish to speak directly with either Santa or Mrs. Claus can dial (866) 997-2682 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. (Eastern Time) each night. Calls will be routed through what former Vermont Governor Jim Daniels declared an “official North Pole substation.”

Parents should not worry about answers their children will get, according to a recreation department official from Pine Heights, a nursing and rehab center. Promises of particular gifts are not made — especially not things such as cars, horses and baby siblings. Phone answerers also know how to deal with skeptics, organizers added.

Beyond keeping happily busy at what could be a wistful or bittersweet time of year, residents who take part feel a special sense of purpose, a Pine Heights official noted. The hotline has been in existence for about five years, with call volume growing from about 10 initially to 30 last year, she added.