Hannah Brencher launched The World Needs More Love Letters in 2010. Since then, the effort has provided handwritten words of encouragement to thousands of people.
Liza Rubin was heartbroken, plain and simple. A bad breakup had sunk her deep into a sorrow that even her family and friends could not help her shake.
“I have a really strong support system,” said Rubin, 22, of Philadelphia. “They were trying to find all these things to make me feel better and pull me out of my funk.”
What it took, in the end, was the kindness and encouragement of a group of strangers to make her smile again.
Thanks to a tip from her best friend over the summer, Rubin received a bundle of about 40 handwritten dispatches — along with a mix CD of breakup songs and other remedies — from people she had never met. The support came pouring in from a project called The World Needs More Love Letters, which is stepping up its efforts to make the bereft feel appreciated this holiday season. In the month of December, 12 recipients will receive hundreds of letters from strangers, all with wishes of love and encouragement during difficult times in their lives.
A project called The World Needs More Love Letters allows volunteers to send letters of support to strangers in need of a pick-me-up.
Founded in 2010 by Hannah Brencher, 24, the group answers requests for handwritten messages of love and support to be sent to people in times of need. More Love Letters also hides anonymous notes in random places for strangers to find serendipitously. The project has grown from Brencher’s solo effort to one that has reached thousands across the United States and the world through the website MoreLoveLetters.com.
“When you go through something hard, no matter who’s around you and who’s trying to help you, at the end of the day you just feel so alone — you feel so sad,” Rubin said. “To know that these people are out there to write such heartwarming letters for a complete stranger restores your faith in humanity. You know there are good people out there.”
Spreading holiday cheer
More Love Letters’ second annual “12 Days of Love Letter Writing” campaign is under way and has garnered more than 2,000 volunteers to write letters before Dec. 14. Brencher said the staff makes sure volunteers’ letters are not “creepy” or negative, nor too religious. (Mentioning God or prayer is fine, for example, but quoting scripture is too specific for recipients of unknown religious affiliations.)
A letter request is revealed each day, and volunteers can fill the group's post office box to the brim. The recipients are of various ages and genders, and issues range from people dealing with illness to service members overseas for the holidays.
The World Needs More Love Letters
'Stay wonderful': Unexpected handwritten letters like this one cheer people up when they need it most.
Last year, The World Needs More Love Letters received more than 900 love letters, and Brencher said she expects to see triple or quadruple that number this year thanks to coverage from bloggers and word of mouth. One of 2011’s letters went viral — a love letter to college students stressing out about final exams. “It was all over Facebook walls, all over Pinterest walls,” she said. “I could not believe ... this thing has touched so many nerves. People read it out of the Christmas season. People were printing it out at the library and tucking it all over the library.”
Cursive sentiments in a digital world
Back in 2010, Brencher was a recent college graduate who had moved to New York to work at a human rights organization when she found herself facing the peculiar isolation that occurs when one feels lonely yet is surrounded by people in a city of more than 8 million.
“I was dealing with a lot of depression and not really knowing how to deal with the sadness,” she recalled.
One day, she spotted another downtrodden woman riding the train, pulled a notebook out of her bag and began to write some words of encouragement to her.
“I just talked about wanting goodness for that person and wanting them to know that they are worth it,” Brencher said. “It seems to be the first thing we discard, that we are worth time and energy and all those good things.”
The woman left the train before she was finished writing, but a fire was sparked. “I could see a change in my spirit.”
That letter led to a collection of letters. Brencher began leaving them throughout the city in a sort of one-sided scavenger hunt.
“I left that letter on the train,” she said. "The ones that followed were in coat pockets to behind salt shakers in cafes to sinks in the U.N. — everywhere.”
The World Needs More Love Letters
'I believe in you': Handwritten letters from strangers can help a person snap out of a funk and move forward.
Brencher credits her mother with helping her realize the power of the written word and of the feeling of reading a personal letter. “My mom doesn’t have a cell phone. She doesn’t do email. She uses letters and landline phones,” she said. “Getting a letter in the mail throughout college was the most awesome thing for me.”
A movement is born
Brencher blogged about her effort and was surprised to get more than 20 requests overnight for letters to people going through troubled times. She continued to write them and when she reached 400 realized she needed a bigger venue. Brencher launched her website in August 2011; today she has a staff helping her write and getting the word out to college campuses. The project has grown so much that Brencher has made it her primary focus, running it from her home in Connecticut.
Here, for example, is a letter written for someone in a time of need: “Dear Jim, you are receiving this because you are more loved than you will ever know! I don’t know you personally, but from what I’ve heard you have an incredible personality and values — values that I would like to emulate in my own life. Life is unfair, and I’m so sorry for what you’re experiencing, but your strength and bravery are inspiring not only to me but to so many around you.”
The World Needs More Love Letters
Someone familiar with Jim's situation contacted The World Needs More Love Letters and alerted volunteers that Jim needed support. This is one of many letters Jim received from complete strangers.
And here’s an anonymous one: “Hello stranger, this is a sweet little letter for YOU! I’m just like you, I have dreams and goals that I want to live out ... but sometimes life’s obstacles get in the way. Know that the challenges that you face will make you stronger and wiser!”
The idea is not meant to sweep someone off their feet. “We don’t do the mushy-gushy romantic love,” she said. “It’s the kind of a love that we don’t really talk about a lot in our culture, a random act of kindness love. ... We don’t really have to know you and know what color your eyes are or your story.”
Letters include the website address and encourage recipients to share their experiences, but the numbers of those inspired by the effort who have written letters of their own may never be known. Bundles of letters like the one Rubin received are sent to in response to requests for support.
“It’s overwhelming,” Brencher said. “I’ve never yet come across somebody who is not happy about receiving those letters. ...
“Words are a very powerful thing. Some people don’t have time to give. Some people don’t have money. But some people have words.”
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