This week I was struck by the importance of letter-writing after reading a profile of Kolbie Blume, President Obama’s former director of writing for sampled correspondence, in The Atlantic. Blume, at age 22, was one of the team of writers in charge of answering the 10,000 daily letters and messages received from citizens hoping to catch the President’s attention. Her job, in particular, was to respond to the 10 letters a day that President Obama would personally read each night after dinner. Blume’s task was to write letters that honored the President’s established voice and policies while still creating responses that were personable, humane, and timely.
The letters Blume wrote in her two-year assignment, made me think of the letters I have written in my own life. In elementary school, I wrote the tooth fairy asking for proof of her existence via a return letter in tiny script and regular notes to my grandparents in crayon and pencil. In middle school, I wrote pen pals in Germany, Australia, and Mexico. In high school, I wrote letters to boys I would never have the courage to speak to in ‘real life’ (and thankfully most of those letters remained unsent). Even thinking about that last memory seems undeniably quaint.
These days, people like me would just text their intended, and while this is not an anti-texting or pro-cursive missive, this is a little dispatch from a Resistbot-era to remind all of us letter writing is not dead. In fact, if you are feeling particularly ambitious or moved, consider writing on behalf of one of the following organizations:
Flourish STL’s Letters of Love: Writing a letter of encouragement to new moms may initially seem like an inconsequential action, one full of hope and kindness but perhaps ineffectual. Think again! By writing a letter of encouragement to a pregnant or new mom, you create a more supportive climate for mothers in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Furthermore, your involvement not only encourages a mom in need but also raises awareness about the infant mortality problem we have in the United States. “Black babies in the St. Louis region are 3x more likely to die before their first birthday than white babies,” according to Flourish St. Louis, an infant mortality reduction initiative. Taking the moment to connect and encourage (not lecture or offer unsolicited advice) a new mother underscores the important role this woman has and shows her society values and appreciates what she is doing.
The World Needs More Love Letters: Hannah Brencher’s viral TED Talk details how post-college she was “completely sucker-punched in the face by depression.” In an effort to remind herself of the beloved letters her mother would write to her during college, Brencher, then 22, began writing love letters to the strangers of New York City. She detailed her letter-writing campaign in a 2011 blog and now “The World Needs More Love Letters” posts selected “letter requests” for those who need a boost in their mailbox and their life. In September, for example, you could write Michelle, an 11-year-old girl who has been diagnosed with depression and separation anxiety and is weathering her parents’ divorce, or Jonathan, a young man who recently came out as gay but whose mother has not taken the news gladly. The remarkable thing about this project is that Brencher, her organization, and volunteer writers have sent over 250,000 love letters into the world at no profit. While the debate over “pure” altruism continues, this little project inspires letter writers to pick up their pens and favorite stationery stat.
Operation Gratitude: This California-based initiative requests undated personal letters of appreciation for U.S. troops, first responders, veterans, military families,and wounded heroes and their caregivers. The letters accompany care packages, over two million and counting, and are reported to be one of the favorite parts of the care package. For letter writers this September, consider the organization needs holiday cheer two to three months before winter celebrations.