Dear Stranger is a recurring letter-exchange project that connects Oregonians through the mail to share experiences, beliefs, and ideas. Since 2014, more than 500 people have exchanged letters through the project. Everyone is invited to participate—whatever your age, your place of residence, or your circumstances, Dear Stranger wants to hear from you.
When we planned this spring's round of Dear Stranger, we wanted to get people thinking about this year's upcoming elections and share the things they are holding in their hearts and minds for those elections. That was before the outbreak of COVID-19 brought a new urgency to creating and maintaining human connection. As we temporarily separate ourselves from our in-person communities, this opportunity to reach out to strangers feels newly important.
Given the circumstances of the moment, we're adding a second prompt, inviting you to reflect on the things that the current pandemic reveals or changes for you, your community, or the country. And if you want to ignore both prompts and write about something else entirely, that's OK too.
Here’s how to participate:
- Write a letter. Address it “Dear Stranger.” Fill a page or two, or more if you feel inspired. If you’d like, feel free to include a photo or a drawing or a recipe—anything that will fit in an envelope. Write your response to one of the following questions:
- What are one or two things—people, issues, or ideas—that you are keeping in mind or holding in your heart during upcoming city, state, and national elections, or hope that others will keep in mind or hold in their hearts?
- As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, different communities, elected leaders, and institutions have responded differently. What have you learned from the response to the virus? Has your understanding of the values your community holds or the systems that support it changed?
- Print and sign the Dear Stranger release form. If you don't have access to a printer, please use this online form. We cannot exchange letters without a release.
- Mail your letter and signed release form to Dear Stranger c/o Oregon Humanities, 921 SW Washington St., #150, Portland, Oregon 97205
When you write to Dear Stranger, your letter will be swapped with one from another writer. They will get your letter; you will get theirs. The exchange is anonymous, and you can share as little or as much information about yourself as you like. Please keep in mind that photos, even ones without people in them, may contain information that could be used to identify you.
Dear Stranger is open to everyone, though writers under the age of eighteen must have parental consent to participate. (Click here to download the consent form.) Letters are paired at random, though we do our best to match participants with someone outside of their ZIP code. Oregon Humanities staff read all letters before they are exchanged.
Letters will be mailed to participants on a rolling basis beginning in March 2020. Letters will be mailed at the end of each month. We will continue exchanging letters received through May 30, 2020.
If you have questions about Dear Stranger, contact Ben Waterhouse at firstname.lastname@example.org or (503) 241-0543, ext. 122.
7 comments have been posted.
I would love to have a pen pal from anywhere in Oregon. I like the outdoors, writing, and beer.
Betsy Dasenko | March 2020 | Corvallis
Is there a way to include kids, where letters from kids could be swapped with other Oregon kids?
Terra Marzano | March 2020 |
This is a fantastic idea! I'm going to share this with my colleagues at work.
Abby Mann | March 2020 | Portland, OR
“Dear Stranger” has the potential to offer a thought provoking self-examination, and invites meaningful community-building opportunities.
Karen | March 2020 | Central Oregon
Thank you for this. It feels important, these days, that we be able to talk to each other. And what better place to start then here in our own state, no?
Peggy Acott | August 2018 | Portland
Oregon pen-pals! Love the idea. l've already sent my letter in!
Regina Muñoz | July 2018 | Medford
What a wonderful project. I am eager to write to my stranger. I am going to encourage my friends to also participate. I am very grateful for Oregon Humanities.
Carolyn Latierra | July 2018 | Portland