“My lifelong belief in the power of handwritten letters started at a young age. To this day, I can remember my mom pulling up to our mailbox every day after school. She’d put the car in park, roll down the window, and pull what felt like heaps of mail into the car. Every day, without fail, I would ask if there was anything for me. More likely than not, the daily correspondences were just catalogs, bills, and the odd note from a family or friend—seldom was there anything special waiting for me. But every day, I asked and waited.
As I got older, I became obsessed with writing thank you notes and even designed my own stationery covered in colorful patterns and printed on my computer with my mom’s help. I came to realize receiving mail is like receiving a hug. It’s something so small that can change your whole day for the better, an unexpected reminder someone is thinking about you. As hugs are seldom these days in 2020, a letter in the mail feels much more important. At the start of March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the world to seemingly shut down overnight.
Millions of Americans were separated from their families, forced to stay inside, and faced with endless uncertainty about the future. As I worked from my home office, A.K.A. my converted dining room table, I had CNN on in the background. I remember sitting there, thinking how hopeless I felt. The ICUs filling up, hospital heroes fighting every day in an uphill battle, and so many isolated and alone. I was grateful to be healthy and sheltering in place with my wonderful husband and fluffy pup, Leia, but all I wanted to do was to help. But over and over, I heard the best thing I could do to ‘help’ was to stay at home and stay in place.
Day after day I sat, frustrated in this feeling. I’m an action-oriented person, and sitting still without a positive game plan felt even more like this raging pandemic was winning. That was, until one day I received a knock on the door from my mailman with a care package in his hands from my parents, sent from hundreds of miles away. While writing this almost a year later, I can’t help but start tearing up from the overwhelming feeling of hope and love the United States Postal Service had once again brought me. It reminded me even while separated, we’re not alone.
As my husband and I sorted through the package filled with coveted toilet paper, sanitizing hand soap, candy, and other seemingly-random gifts, my wheels started turning on how I could replicate this feeling of love and kindness to my community. The first thing I did was pull out my stationery box from where it was collecting dust in a closet. The glossy black box was bursting at the seams with pen pal letters from my best friends, extra blank cards collected over the years, and my prized possession of colorful stamps.
I pushed aside my ‘work station’ and dumped the box on the dining room table. For the first time in weeks, I was energized by writing these letters and felt like I was making a difference! In these moments I realized I could still positively impact those around me, even if I couldn’t see them in person. The first iteration of this project was simple cards that went out to loved ones I had in my personal address book. But as I put the letters in my mailbox, I had the desire for this to become something bigger and to do more.
I was drawn to the mission of using the postal service as a means to bring random acts of kindness, compassion, and positivity to those around me, and thus created what would be later coined ‘project_positivity.’ At this exact moment in mid-May when I started my letter campaign, my sister, a nurse on the front lines of COVID-19, was also going through a divorce. She was at St. Mary’s Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, giving everything she had to patients every single day, coming home exhausted, in need of a hug, but had to stay away from everyone she loved for their safety.
It felt unbelievably sad and unfair, so once again I took to snail mail. This time, I posted on my Instagram to ask my followers if they would write my sister and her team at the hospital short notes of kindness and gratitude. The idea was while my big Italian family couldn’t support her in person, at least we could have some letters waiting for her when she got home from the hospital each day. For the upcoming weeks, she received dozens of letters from strangers and loved ones alike! Once it went on Instagram, I was blown away by how many people not only wanted to join in but also how they shared it with their own communities.
You could feel the energy around it, and it was infectious. At this moment, I realized so many people felt like I did, alone and frustrated, looking to help and provide a purpose in uncertain times. It was AMAZING! Once the cards started rolling in, I’ll never forget getting a FaceTime call from my sister. She had just walked in the door, still in scrubs, and in disbelief of the envelopes addressed to her from across the country. She just kept saying, ‘This is so nice! But how did they get my address?!?’ We both got a good laugh and cried from the love felt, in even what seemed like endless darkness.
As the cards slowed down and ultimately stopped arriving, all we could do was hope at least one person was paying it forward, using a seemingly-small gesture to positively impact someone else. While my mission to send kindness through the mail could have ended there, it was far from over. As we all know, summer came and went. The world continued social distancing, hundreds of thousands of lives were lost from COVID, political unrest spread, and the United States was divided and on the brink of the most influential election of our lifetime.
This was easily the hardest time for me to write cards for #project_positivity. I had just lost my job due to COVID and would sit daily updating my resume while listening to the news in a state of overwhelming negativity. I worked to keep an optimistic attitude, but for a few weeks, the happiness of sending out snail mail was brought to a stop. I honestly just didn’t know what to say, or why it would make a difference.
Then, one day right before the election, I received a handwritten note from a random member in my community reminding me to exercise my right to vote. There was no political agenda to the card, just another individual, sitting at home, wanting to make a difference and using the postal system to reach those around them. I was already excited to cast my vote, but this resonated with me on a deeper level. It was a reminder one piece of mail can make a difference and inspire those who receive it to promote positive change in the world and spread human kindness.
And with that one card, #project_positivity was back up and running—this time sending more than 30 letters in November to colleagues, elderly individuals, friends, and family. There was no political bias, just a random ray of sunshine placed in their mailboxes to be opened at the end of a long day. Most recently, I sat at my parent’s house, just 6 days into a new year that promised to be better than the last, watching in disbelief as American citizens violently rioted and attacked the 117th United States Congress. Once again, I felt discouraged, saddened, and speechless.
On what felt like repeat, I received messages and calls asking if I could believe what I was seeing. The plain and simple answer was, ‘No.’ I could not believe what was happening, and once again, my heart felt like it was breaking for our country. As I did so many times this year, I put #project_positivity in action. This time, posting an open invitation on Instagram for any individual to request a card of happiness for themselves OR their loved ones. Unlike other times, I opened my private account, tagged aligned business, and utilized hashtags to reach a wider audience. The result was astounding.
Within 24 hours I received over 50 requests, mostly from strangers, and had formed a partnership with the outstanding stationery team at Cheree Berry Paper, in my hometown of St. Louis. Their generous donation not only helped me to write even more cards, but their designs absolutely bring joy and lend a helping toward the project’s mission. Throughout my entire experience mailing letters, I’ve been supported by so many people! From my parents inspiring the project and mailing me stamps when I ran out, to my community paying it forward by sending snail mail to my sister and other hospital heroes, to partnerships from small businesses donating to support the project.
It’s inspiring to watch, and the memories easily keep me going when the endless mail can seem overwhelming, or like I’m not doing enough to spread my mission of providing kindness and positivity during uncertain times. As I write this today, my mom and sister are helping me address cards, my husband is filling them with little extra stamps to support the USPS and goodies, and my pup, Leia, is cuddled at my feet as her way to help be part of the project. To date, there are over 100 #project_positivity cards that have been sent via the United States Postal Service, and I hope to keep them going!
If you’d like to support the project or get a card of your own, follow me on Instagram and send me a DM! But remember, the best way you can keep #project_positivity going is to send a letter to your loved ones on your own. Pay it forward.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Liz Cortese of San Francisco, California. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more act of kindness stories:
‘To the dad at the bounce park, thank you for teaching your child to interact with someone ‘different.’: Mom to son with Down syndrome shares stranger’s act of kindness, inclusion that made her ‘heart swell’
‘I have a huge favor to ask. I’m in the ER. I can’t leave my daughter alone, but I really need a coffee.’ I was blown away.’: Single mom touched by act of kindness during daughter’s open heart surgery
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