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. Want to start a Dear Stranger exchange in your own state or community? Check out our how-to guide or watch our webinar.
25 comments have been posted.
What a fabulous idea! I believe letter writing is becoming a lost art. Let's bring it BACK and reconnect in a most wonderful way!
Michelle C Smith | May 2020 | Gresham, Oregon
Dear stranger, I don't know who you are but I know you know about the covid 19 ( coronnavirus ) How have you been and what have you been doing . From: Madelyn
Madelyn | April 2020 | Dear Stranger c/o Oregon Humanities, 921 SW Washington St., #150, Portland, Oregon 97205
Where do you put the return address? On the envelope or in the release form or both? Or somewhere else? Is the exchange between people in the united states or international as well?
Christine | April 2020 |
I would like to participate but am hesitant to exchange mail due to handling the paper mail. Do you have an online letter exchange?
Patricia Brewster | April 2020 | Burns
can someone from another state participate?
LINDA HEESEMANN | April 2020 | Windsor
Just heard of this story on NPR. I'm Italian and would love to receive letters in this sad time. Fe free to write to me, I'm a good listener.
Elena Colombo | April 2020 | Italy
I learned about this on NPR this morning. Is it limited to only people from Oregon?
Carolyn B | April 2020 | California
Thank you so much for this opportunity!! I am a Born Oregonian who is currently living in New Mexico. My husband and I were in the middle of readying to move back home. Well, now we are having to wait until perhaps this winter. I miss my home, and my fellow Oregonians. Not being able to go home is the worst part of this. So being able to write some oregonians is an AMAZING opportunity! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!
Julie Chapman | April 2020 | Silver City, N.M.
This is a beautiful thing. So happy to hear The story on the radio this morning. Are letters sent out once a year only? Or do you do it several times a year? I am wondering how you decided on the time frame. I would love to start something like this in my community. I will fill out the form. Thanks again.
Bird | April 2020 | Madison WI
Thanks all for your questions about Dear Stranger. Here are some answers: 1. Anyone in the US is welcome to participate. 2. You can write as many letters as you like and will receive a letter back for each one you send. 3. Children are welcome to participate; the participation form has a place to indicate whether you'd prefer to exchange letters with another child. 4. If you are interested in starting a Dear Stranger exchange in your own state or community, get in touch with me at email@example.com. I'm happy to share materials and advice.
Ben Waterhouse | April 2020 | Portland
What a great idea. I love writing letters-on paper. Do you only want Oregon residents to participate? I’m in upstate New York. Have a great day
Deb | April 2020 | Albany NY
I only just heard about this program when listening to NPR this morning. Has it been advertised or promoted anywhere. I think it is a great idea, but wonder how much more participation there would be if more people knew about it.
Gayle Sisson | April 2020 | Florence
I LOVE this idea. I often mourn the loss of tangible permanent communication from friends and families. Some many things have been replaced by E-this and E-that. Recently found a letter from my great-grandmother that still contained a pressed maple leaf from Upper Peninsula Michigan. I remember looking forward to those letters as a child and into my teens and sitting at my small desk as I penned my response.
Jayne | April 2020 | Portland
Can someone who lives in AZ but has family in OR participate?
Elizabeth Plata | April 2020 | Phoenix, AZ
I think this is an absolutely AMAZING idea. I cannot wait to get started. Is there a limit to the amount of letters one can draft?
L.D. Williams | April 2020 |
How might this be duplicated in other states? What resources might I be in touch with to see about such a project in WV?
Cindy Wanamaker | April 2020 | Morgantown, WV
I live in Louisville KY on my NPR radio station and LOVE this story! I wish we had this project in my state, so that we could do something similar. We need to connect as a society more than ever in this place in time. Be safe and in good health.
Lisa | April 2020 | Louisville, KY
I write hundreds of letters to friends around the world every month and have for years. I am jumping in here and would be happy to help anyone who wants more people to write or help with letters in any way.
Tamra Orr | March 2020 | Gresham
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