The "Miracle on 34th Street" is more than just a movie to postal workers who have borrowed the slogan to describe how thousands of people are helped each year when they write to Santa.

"Over the past years, we've had a number of startling successes," said Postmaster John M. Nolan, noting that families have been reunited through the letters and one person received an eye operation. "Every year, we kind of have a miracle on 34th Street here." New York's main post office is a massive neo-classical building on Eighth Avenue with its north side on 34th Street.The post office kicked off this year's campaign Wednesday, although 4,000 of an expected 18,000 letters to Santa from the less fortunate around the world have already been received.

Last year, more than 16,000 letters to Santa from about 10 countries, many addressed to the North Pole and bearing a New York zip code, ended up at the main post office's dead letter unit. Good Samaritans answered about 14,000 of them, Nolan said.

New York postal employees, with the public's help, have been granting Christmas wishes for 60 years.

"I don't believe in you, but my teacher says I have to write you a letter anyway," confessed Mark, who lives in a Manhattan welfare hotel. "For Christmas, could you please bring my mother a coat? ... My teacher gave her one, but it didn't fit."

"My husband is a junkie and he left us with nothing," wrote a mother of three in Brooklyn. "So I left him and moved in with my mom and dad. It's embarrassing enough that I can't afford to get my kids anything."

"I budget for one meal a day," said a Bronx woman who is raising three children and a grandchild on a salary of $2.35 an hour. "It drives me crazy sometimes and I feel like the world wants to come down."

"We don't vouch for the exact accuracy or need," said Nolan, but he feels most of the letters are legitimate.

About 25 grade-school children, many of them welfare hotel residents, chatted with Santa during a news conference to launch the volunteer drive.

Ellen Hernandez, 9, said she wanted "a baby girl" for Christmas. "Santa doesn't give baby girls. We can give you a baby doll, though," he replied jovially.

"Lose some weight," advised Tiffany Rodriguez, 8, but St. Nick said he couldn't make such a promise.

Volunteers can get letters to answer by calling, writing or going to the main post office.

The 1947 film "Miracle on 34th Street" tells the story of a lawyer who proves the existence of Santa Claus using as evidence the bags and bags of letters the U.S. Postal Service delivered to him. The Santa in question worked at Macy's department store, which also is on 34th Street in Manhattan.