It's crunch time in North Pole, Alaska—and no one knows that better than Gabby Gaborik. Since 2001 the 61-year-old gravel pit owner has led a town tradition of answering the letters from children that pour into the 99705 zip code addressed to "Santa, North Pole" every December. Working from a tiny storefront, Gaborik and his band of 45 volunteers spend up to 20 hours a day addressing envelopes and putting stamps on some 30,000 printed responses, all signed by elves (www.santasmailbag.org). "The big guy has to stay mystical," Gaborik explains. Some memorable missives:

GREAT EXPECTATIONS: One boy's request for a personal elf.

AMERICA'S MOST WANTED: The Xbox 360.

MOST UNLIKELY: A woman's inquiry: Could Santa help her get pregnant?

A LUMP OF COAL: "Some kids told me they were going to poison my milk because I didn't bring them what they asked for the previous year."

ON THE SPOT: One girl managed to track down Gaborik, called him and asked, "Is this Santa?" he says. "I was stuck, so I said, 'Yes it is.' She was calling from the school bus—on her cell phone!"

WHY BOTHER? "Gabby just really wants to put a smile on as many kids' faces as he can," says Connie Bileddo, a.k.a. volunteer Elf Jangles. "That's why everyone in town wants to help him."