Yes, Virginia, Santa can write.

At least that is what children this year in parts of Maryland and the District will find when Santa Claus answers their Christmas letters.

Five volunteers from the Community Service Committee of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Local 142, will respond to letters and wish lists sent to Santa with a red and green card, postmarked from the North Pole Branch of the U.S. Post Office. A poem from Santa, promising that he "is coming with a sack full of toys . . . for good girls and good boys," is printed on the card.

Showing his ever-good humor, Santa says on the card, "I have gotten your letter, and I just want to say, add stamp collecting to your list and do it today."

Parents who encourage their children to write to Santa are asked to make sure they include return addresses.

Children whose homes are served by the 122 post offices, stations and branches in the District, Montgomery, Prince George's, St. Mary's, Calvert, Charles and most of Anne Arundel counties will receive responses.

Members of the local also will look for letters sent from children who live in "low income" Zip Codes to refer them to local charities. Santa's deadline is Dec. 20, but he'll always accept a few late arrivals.

Sandra Stewart, communications manager for the Southern Maryland and District Postal Service, said that area post offices often receive touching, selfless letters written by children to Santa. Her boss, Postmaster Esther Richards, decided the children deserve a response.

"Last year, we received more than 2,000 letters," Stewart said. "Depending on the size of their area, some postmasters wrote their own handwritten responses. This year, they have the option of answering letters or sending them on to the local."