Whether you write prose in your free time or can hardly write two sentences without getting bored, there are people out there who need your words. Although I prefer spending hours on personalized letters, that doesn't mean that little notes or cards aren't every bit as heartfelt. If you like drawing, then create a birthday card for a special kid in foster care or an elderly woman who isn't in contact with her family anymore.
Over my life, I've gotten so many handwritten cards from friends, family, pen-pals, and acquaintances... I have kept all of them. Sometimes, in times of personal crisis, I'll dig them out of their boxes and read the messages that people spent time writing just for me. It makes me feel like I can do things that I normally wouldn't let myself believe that I could do.
For those who are feeling lonely or helpless, letter writing is a wonderful way to volunteer your time. I miss volunteering in soup kitchens or chaperoning campers. But just because we’re stuck inside doesn't mean we can’t still help others. These are a few of the best resources that I have found for writing letters:
1. Letters Against Depression
Learn someone's story and tell them yours. These letters must be handwritten and at least one page in length, but you can write anything about either yourself or the person to whom you’re writing. When I'm feeling depressed myself, this helps me immensely. I've found a lot of similarities in people's tragedies and how they respond to the stress of life. By telling them that they are worth the world, I remind myself that I, too, am worth more than I give myself credit for.
Every month, groups of thousands get together (without ever running into each other) and write to people in need. Requests for letters are sent by loved ones if they think that someone in their lives needs a bit of encouragement or social interaction. These messages are more about not being alone than "it gets better" because, unfortunately, we, as letter writers, don't know that. We don't know these recipients personally, so we don't know what life they've lead or the losses they've endured. What we do know is that someone cared enough for them to submit their name for a "love letter bundle". We also know that they are human beings and therefore unique and invaluable. The requests for these letters are posted monthly.
3. Girls Love Mail
Ultimately, these letters have to be vague and encouraging. This organization focuses on girls or women who suffer from cancer. There are strict guidelines, which ensure that all volunteers use appropriate language and keep the common theme of "this must be a hard time but you're not alone; you're stronger than you realize". I like to make these notes as intricate and fun as possible because who wants to see a blank sheet of paper against the already stark white backdrop of a hospital? Color and designs help brighten anyone's day.
4. The Letter Project
Similar to Letters Against Depression, volunteers are able to choose the specific person to whom they want to write. Keep in mind that this isn't a pen-pal site; meaning that, even if you choose someone because you relate to their story, they can't write you back. Of course, you can write about your own experiences and how you see some of that mirrored in their life, but don't expect to strike up any kind of relationship with them and don't ever try to take the focus of the letter away from them. After all, this isn't about you. It's about what they're going through. They need reassurance and encouragement. Also, keep in mind that this organization is Christian-based and exclusively for female recipients.
5. Braid Mission: Cards of Hope
Again, an easier format to follow with a much smaller word-count, this non-profit is about celebrating birthdays and giving encouraging letters to those in the foster system. Any stickers or stamps included in the envelopes would be an added bonus!
6. Love for the Elderly
Imagine that your grandmother were all alone. Now imagine that you went to visit her. It sounds bleak, I know, but it's the only way that I was able to truly appreciate just how impactful this organization is. I realized that letters can be the only "thing" to happen to someone all day. It has been proven that social contact can increase someone's mood and, in turn, their health. This is no different. I like to send recipients old postcards because it gives them another little piece of the world that they may not always get to see.
7. Letters to Strangers
Arguably the most well-known organization on this list, this is all about making someone you don't know smile. It's as simple as it sounds: write a letter, mail it, and know that it's in the hands of someone who really needed encouragement.
8. Black and Pink
This is a pen-pal program which focuses on incarcerated LGBT+ people. From those in solitary confinement to those in general-population who are simply lonely, this site is a good way to let people in prison know that they can still contribute to the world, and build on their dreams, from right where they are in their lives.