The long winter is coming. The days will be dark. The hours will drag. You will be afraid to go outside. You will pace in circles looking for something to do. You will ask, over and over again, “Is it over yet? Can we go outside now?”
… what? No no, I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about my Granny and her front porch.
My Granny still lives on her own, and I spend a lot of time with her, having chosen early on in the pandemic to restrict all my other activities so I can take care of and not endanger her. And so far it’s been just fine: I get there in the morning, we have breakfast together, and after that we sit on the porch until lunch, or we’ll go in the backyard and I’ll do some weeding or raking while she supervises.
But now it’s getting cold. We can’t go out on the porch. And we cancelled Thanksgiving as we couldn’t figure out a safe way to do it. So I’ve been contemplating how we could spend the holidays indoors in a way that allows us to appreciate the spirit of connection and gratitude. Finally, I think I’ve figured it out: cards and letters. There are kids in the hospital, soldiers stationed overseas, older adults in nursing homes. We’ll be spending part of our holidays reaching out and sharing some cheer so that we can all feel a little less lonely. Want to join in? Here’s how.
Before you get started: with the postal service problems, the deadlines will be tight to send holiday cards this year, but you can instead send cards for other occasions, all year ’round. A lot of these projects require that you make homemade cards. Grab paper, pen, and crayons, but leave the glitter, pipe cleaners, and other bulky craft items alone; cards shouldn’t have anything that’s loosely attached (and glitter, as crafty people know, spreads at a rate unexplainable by any physical law). Stickers and stamps, as long they’re firmly adhered to the paper, should be okay. Wondering how to fold paper into cards? This article from The Spruce Crafts shows several different ways to do it, from plain portrait cards to fancy aperture cards.
Making Someone’s Day Less Lonely: Cards for Hospitalized Kids
Cards for Hospitalized Kids was started in 2011 by Jen Rubino, who spent a great deal of her childhood battling health problems after she was diagnosed with connective tissue and bone disease in 2006. A homemade card received in 2011 lifted her spirits so much that she started CFHK to encourage other young people who might be feeling lonely and isolated as they receive health care.
CFHK is looking for both holiday and non-holiday cards, and has a number of guidelines concerning what’s good and bad for cards. Putting messages relating to health (like “get well soon”) is not allowed because some recipients may be experiencing chronic or even terminal illness; religious-based messages are also discouraged as hospitals treat patients of all religions (or no religion).
CFHK distributes cards to hospitals monthly and needs cards for all kinds of holidays. If it just doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving to you, how about making Valentine’s Day cards? Or St. Patrick’s Day? Put some springtime into your card and send it to someone who can use it.
Connecting to Lonely and Isolated Kids and Seniors
CardzForKidz is a bit of a misnomer since it distributes cards to both kids and older adults. The site explains, “It is our mission and purpose to be there to provide emotional comfort via handwritten cards for every child and elderly patient who is open to receiving it.” Founder Ike Nwankwo started the organization in 2010 and expanded its mission in subsequent years.
CardzForKidz does accept holiday cards, but discourages them in favor of cards that can be received all year. And if you’re really feeling creative you can make homemade bookmarks!
If you’re looking for a lot of guidance in making your cards, start here first. CardzForKidz has a recommended supply list, table reminders to show what can and can’t go in a card (along with some card ideas), and even a PowerPoint slide show that you can play while creating the cards. CardzForKidz provides a lot of support for card-creating groups. How about a card-making Zoom party?
Send Cards to Troops Overseas
Of course, kids in the hospital aren’t the only ones who might be feeling lonely and isolated this holiday — the United States has a lot of military service members stationed overseas. A Million Thanks, which started in 2004, works to get letters to these folks all year.
A Million Thanks is more oriented toward letters than cards. Because of COVID, it has a tight deadline for holiday letters. Instead consider writing non-holiday letters of thanks and encouragement, which the group distributes year-round. A Million Thanks will not distribute negative letters and seeks letters of positivity and encouragement. A Million Thanks also requests a $1 donation per letter to be mailed (sending things overseas is not cheap!) but the donation is not required.
You can mail your letters in or use the map on the site to find a dropoff location near you — there are bunches of them all over the United States. Due to the current situation, though, I’d recommend you check with a potential dropoff site to see if they’ll accept your letters.
Letters for Deployed Military and Veterans
America’s Adopt a Soldier is one busy organization! From the front page of its site you can see several different initiatives going on. A coat drive and a toy drive! A request for donations of gift cards and phone cards! Task Force Smile!
With all that going on, you might miss the page for sending in letters. The site doesn’t have too many guidelines for sending in letters; it looks like encouragement and positive thoughts are all that’s required.
While you’re here, though, be sure to take a look at the feedback and letters from soldiers. Sending cards and letters to people far from home really does make an impact, and you can tell it here.
Letting Our Seniors Know They’re Remembered
I know how fortunate I am to have my Granny at home where I can visit her and take care of her. Many older adults are in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and other places where COVID-19 has them isolated from family. Love For Our Elders was started by Jacob Cramer, who lost his grandfather when he was ten.
The Write a Letter to an Elder project isn’t about holiday cards, but about sending friendly, encouraging, positive letters. (As with many of these initiatives, letters with a religious theme or religious discussion are discouraged.) Letters must be legible and handwritten, preferably in larger print. (I can tell this is going to be the challenging one for me.) Love for Our Elders encourages photos, drawings, crosswords, and other creativity in its letters.
Speaking of creativity, if you really want to get next-level, consider recording a video letter! Virtual Letters of Love, another Love for Our Elders project, requests contributors to make a 30-second video message. Send it to Love for Our Elders via Facebook and Instagram and they’ll pass it on to an older adult.
Sending Postcards to Specific Nursing Homes
Most of the resources I’ve mentioned in this column require you to send your cards and letters to a central location from which they’re distributed. TimeSlips, however, has published a list of nursing homes and care centers that want to receive your postcards. There are a few outside the United States (and one UK location that even accepts email) but it’s mostly a list of over 100 places in the United States, organized by state, that want to see your postcards.
TimeSlips is looking for cards that are joyful, encouraging, or spark some creativity. And unlike most of the organizations listed here, you are encouraged to use your return address when you send a card. You might even end up with a pen pal!
Say It with Colors
Maybe you don’t want to write a letter because you don’t know what to say. You don’t want to make a card because you don’t think you can do anything artistic. And you don’t have any postcards. Don’t worry, there’s still something you can do. Do you know how to color? ColorASmile needs you.
ColorASmile has hundreds and hundreds of coloring sheets for you to decorate. Some of them are seasonal, some not, and some are blank so you can create your own artwork. Once you’ve created your artwork with crayons and markers (no glitter please), put on your name and age and mail them in. ColorASmile will distribute them to care homes, soldiers overseas, or anyone who needs a smile. ColorASmile also has an interesting “subscription program,” where for a donation you can sign up someone to receive artworks once a month.
To say that this holiday season is going to be different is some kind of understatement. But good news is on the horizon in the form of vaccines from multiple research initiatives. This year I’m going to focus on keeping the spirit of gratitude and love alive even if I had to do it away from most of my family. But I’m thinking good thoughts for next year.
Featured image: Juice Flair / Shutterstock
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