Two things that are more important than ever: maintaining connections and supporting the USPS. Here are a few fun ways to do both.
So, real talk: The United States Postal Service needs our help.
Like just about every business in the country, the USPS has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, then Postmaster General Megan Brennan warned Congress that the USPS could lose $13 billion in 2020, with further financial devastation continuing through the next decade.
While politicians debated the pros and cons of helping the USPS with a much-needed bailout, other folks started to encourage folks to help via social media, by sharing links to some of their favorite stamp designs available for purchase. (And did you know the USPS has a merch store stocked with toys, puzzles and even a U.S. Mail Carrier Dog Costume?)
It can be easy to forget for many, since so much of our lives have shifted deeper and deeper into a digital and online existence, but the Post Office is a vital part of the United States.
In the Vox article titled “If the US Postal Service fails, rural American will suffer the most,” published April, 16, 2020, Catherine Kim reported that “18 percent of Americans still pay their bills by mail.â€ More notable, “Twenty percent of adults over 40 who take medication for a chronic condition get those pills by mail order.” And I don’t even want to get into what could happen to our country’s democracy without the postal service — according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 8.2 million voters cast their ballot by mail in the 2016 election and that number will surely multiply in 2020 as several states move to expand their vote-by-mail options to better accommodate social distancing due to COVID-19.
If you truly want to support the USPS, voting and contacting your elected officials to voice your opinion is a great place to start. But money helps, too. And in this time of social distancing and travel restrictions, the mail can be a great way to stay connected with far-flung loved ones or even make a new friend. So here are five things you can do to send more mail and show the USPS some love.
1. Be a Pen Pal
Opportunities to find a pen pal have boomed in 2020 as folks look for ways to stay connected while staying home. Earlier this summer Rachel Syme, staff writer for The New Yorker, started an impromptu pen pal club called #penpalooza and there are now more than 4,000 members spread out across 50 countries. Registration is open through 2020 (contact her via Twitter to get matched up with a pal) and you can get a peek of what folks are sending to one another — handmade postcards, fancy stickers and even tins of popcorn — through the #penpalooza hashtag on Twitter.
Many retirement communities and senior living facilities have also started pen pal programs — with face-to-face visitations brought to a halt, letter writing is one of the only ways some residents can interact with the outside world. Contact some of your local facilities if you want to get involved.
2. Write the Vote
Don’t feel comfortable going door-to-door, but still want to encourage fellow citizens to vote in this year’s election? Reach out to others from the comfort of your own home with letter and postcard writing campaigns such as Postcards to Voters and Vote Forward. Vote Forward, for example, is attempting to send 10 million letters(!) to Americans they believe are “relatively unlikely to voteâ€ – Vote Forward supplies a template letter and mailing addresses and you get to work prepping the mailers for what they call The Big Send, a yet-to-be-announced date in October. You have a little more freedom to express yourself with Postcards to Voters — they’ll give you the addresses (with names withheld for privacy) and you can either buy or make your own postcards, encouraging the sendee to get to the polls come November. (While the traditional flag stamp would surely be appropriate for either project, also consider stocking up on this 19th Amendment design, which celebrates the suffrage movement and women’s right to vote.)
3. Donate Stamps
You can buy every type of stamp the USPS offers — one current design features the work of abstract sculpturist Ruth Asawa and another commemorates the accomplishments of Sally Ride, the first woman in space — but if you’re worried you’ll never use them all, consider donating some of your unused stamps to local organizations. Many cities, including Nashville, Des Moines, and Birmingham, have local free stores, which stay stocked with a variety of food and household goods all made available to the community for free. Dropping off a few sheets, books or rolls of stamps will help ensure everyone has access to what they need, a gesture that feels especially important these days. Many non-profit and charity organizations also accept unused stamp donations, which they can use when sending out fundraising materials. If you’re able, when placing your stamp order, throw a few extras in the cart and then contact your favorite organizations and ask if they’d be able to put them to good use.
4. Collaborate on a Pandemic Journal
These are unprecedented times, yes, and as unsettled, terrified or *insert fearful pandemic-related adjective here* you may feel right now, there will come a day when you’ll want to look back and remember how you and your loved ones dealt during, well, all of this. This project might feel a little Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants-y, but I promise, it’s worth the effort. Pick-up a journal or notebook — however fancy you want it to be — and write a letter or journal entry about what’s going on around you. Get as creative as you want! Include photos, sketches, pressed flowers or coins (remember coins?), whatever feels right. Then pack up the book and send it along to someone else, asking them to do the same. On and on the journal will travel, making its way through your family or circle of friends and, with any luck, by the time it makes its way back to you, you’ll be gifted with a collection of hand-written stories and little pieces of art that commemorate one of the strangest, most unsettling periods of time in U.S. history, and it wouldn’t have happened without the help of the United States Postal Service.
5. Send a… Potato?
There are at least half a dozen websites out there dedicated to mailing potatoes. Potato Parcel, Anonymous Potato, Mail a Spud, Mystery Potato … Weird! But if you want to send something a little more, uh, edible, you can also stick an address label and some stamps on a movie theater-sized box of candy – Mike and Ikes, please! – and sweeten someone’s day without wasteful exterior packaging. Looking for other non-traditional mailing vessels? Send a love note, dried flowers and or small trinkets in a recycled plastic water bottle or mail a friend a party in a pinata! Both can be sent without special packaging – just check with your local post office for shipping rates. Imagine opening the mailbox to see one of these mini pinatas filled with treats. It’d brighten up any otherwise panic-stricken-in-the-midst-of-a-pandemic day.