While most children are writing to Santa for new toys, the latest iPhone or the coolest new game, one fourth grader from New Orleans, Louisiana, wanted something much bigger – a happier life. Local City Councilman-elect Jay Banks was working with the annual Angel Tree programme at a local YMCA when he came across one particular wish list.

The request form featured a section titled "Wish List" in which children of James Singleton Charter School were allowed to ask for five items. But the unnamed boy had only two wishes – "New shoes. Happier life."

Moved by the note, Banks posted a photo of it on Facebook, expressing his surprise and heartache. "This has to be one of the most frustrating things I have ever seen. We host an Angel Tree every year and I randomly selected this form," he captioned the photo.

"Put this in context, a 4th grade child has the opportunity to ask for what he wants for Christmas and this is what he asks for. A new bike, an X-Box, other toys or a multitude of other things would not have surprised nor alarmed me but for a 4th grader to ask for a happier life is heart-wrenching."

Banks said he was confounded by the child, who was probably around nine years old, asking for a "happier life". "My thoughts are; what is this child going through; how many other children like him are going through the same things; how can I help; why did I pull this one?" he wrote. "I'm perplexed and don't know what to do."

The post immediately went viral, with many people offering advice to the councilman on how to help the boy, while others simply expressed sadness about the note.

"Oh god, Jay, I'm wrecked over this for you," wrote one person. "Let me help... Maybe more clothes? Or an after-school programme? I'm happy to contribute."

"My heart is breaking. Things don't always make for happier lives. He needs a mentor to tell him he is important, special and loved," another individual commented. "We miss the boat so many times. If he wants shoes, get the shoes, but what he needs is you!"