Every December, I think of the letter eight-year-old Virginia Hanlon wrote to the editor of the New York Sun in 1897. She wrote:

Dear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in THE SUN it's so." Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

Most years, when I think of Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, I think of the innocence of children and of Virginia's dad, who didn't want to be the one to rob his little girl of her love for jolly ole Saint Nick.

This year, I see the story in a different light. I picture myself wondering ... is there a Santa Claus? Almost every day we hear reports of the high rate of unemployment. Home sales are down, and prices are up. Spillover violence is creating fear and anxiety, and people who parents trusted have done unspeakable harm to their children.

Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

Although I have wonderful memories of my childhood and rushing down the stairs on Christmas morning with all of my brothers and sisters to see what Santa had left for us under the tree, I must admit I love the feeling now that the most important gifts aren't in those catalogues.

This year, I saw Santa Claus with my own eyes when McAllen High School French teacher Veronique Barker and the students in her World Club collected items for our soldiers and sent them Christmas packages so they would know they haven't been forgotten. Little did Veronique know that elves from Garza Elementary School, the Rio Grande Valley Chapter of the Antique Automobile Club and the Hidalgo County Republican Women would donate lots of goodies to put in the boxes.

Another Santa sighting happened in the form of Marion Yoder, a gifted Valley carpenter who learned that a couple of Joplin High School teachers needed bookcases after a devastating tornado on Graduation Day in May destroyed their classrooms and their school. Marion didn't think the three requested bookcases would be enough. He handcrafted a dozen so more JHS teachers would have bookcases made with love. The elves at Channel 5 plan to deliver the bookcase in early 2012.

Santa, in the form of countless people in the Rio Grande Valley, dropped off boxes and boxes of books for the children of Joplin. FedEx elves graciously delivered them to the Joplin school libraries so their students would have the gift of reading.

Santa really went all out when he heard about the families that lost all of their possessions in the McAllen apartment fire a couple of months ago. Clothing, furniture and money filled the jolly soul's sleigh.

The Ruano family doesn't have a chimney, so Santa (in the form of ACTS sisters) knocked on their door to deliver dinner every night during Noemi "Mimi" Ruano's final days and even after her passing. Mimi's daughters, along with several others, then turned into elves as they lovingly cut and tied fleece fabric to make prayer blankets for those who need love and protection, fulfilling Mimi's mission.

Santa appears in the form of people who donate clothing, heaters, food and gifts to those featured in The Monitor's "Twelve Days of Christmas." This busy gift bearer then delivers a new toy for Toys for Tots. He hears of a family at church that needs food to get through a tough time and makes sure they get it.

To borrow the words of Francis Pharcellus Church, the editorial writer for The Sun who answered little Virginia's letter, "Thank God, he lives." I still haven't been able to spot Rudolph and all of his reindeer friends, but Yes, Rio Grande Valley, there is a Santa Claus.

Chris Ardis is in her 28th year of teaching, 27 in McAllen ISD. She is also a freelance writer. Chris is involved with a grassroots movement to transform public education called SOAR McAllen, which you can find on Facebook. You can email Chris at cardis1022@aol.com.