Dear Stranger is a recurring letter-exchange project that connects Oregonians through the mail to share experiences, beliefs, and ideas. Since 2014, more than 1,000 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. Check out this story from NPR to hear what past participants had to say about the experience.
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. You can write about anything you like. Here’s a prompt to get you started:
What comes to mind when you think of joy and pain? Write about human experiences, personal or general, that bring both happiness and suffering: for example, parenthood, adolescence, or physical labor. What times in your life have been both bitter and sweet? When is the joy worth the pain?
Complete the Dear Stranger release form. We cannot exchange letters without a release.
Mail your letter by July 14, 2023, to:
Dear Stranger c/o Oregon Humanities
610 SW Alder, Suite 1111
Portland, OR 97205
Be sure to write your name and return address on your envelope or include it in your email so we can match your letter with your release form and exchange your letter.
If you’re unable to mail in a physical letter, we invite you to send in your letter via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like to mail a letter but cost is a barrier, we have limited funds available for postage support. To request postage support from Oregon Humanities, please email us at email@example.com with your contact information.
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. 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.
Return letters will be mailed to participants in July 2023.
If you have questions about Dear Stranger, contact firstname.lastname@example.org . Want to start a Dear Stranger exchange in your own state or community? Check out our how-to guide or watch our webinar.
36 comments have been posted.
My grandkids moved out of town. I send a postcard and other items to them weekly so they know I care about them and getting mail helps them feel part of the world. Me too.
David Stone | March 2023 | Springfield Oregon
I want to let you know that I, just last night, heard about your Dear Stranger program on the KGW Evening News and I am very excited to participate. Thank you for facilitating an old, tried and true method of communication. I remember exchanging letters with a high school friend who went into the military. We exchanged letters when he was in boot camp and I'm sure it helped him to get letters from home, making it not quite so lonely an experience. It was also interesting to me to hear what he was doing and learning. That being said, interaction with a stranger ought to prove even more interesting now that I'm 58 years old. Thank you again for the opportunity you're providing.
Liesl Carter | May 2022 | Portland Oregon
I want to express my appreciation for the “Dear Stranger “ program. I have enjoyed being part of 2 letter campaigns. The topics you have chosen have been very thought provoking especially during this difficult time we’re living in. The previous topic was about how we see the future. I received a wonderful letter from a Jehovah’s Witness named Karen. She shared several encouraging scriptures that highlight a positive future of a new and better world because of Jesus’ kingdom. Also, she shared a free website JW.org where you can read the Bible, get questions answered and enjoy videos and songs. I am so grateful that you matched up the two “Karen’s”. I have since received a 2nd letter from her that gave her phone number. We are now chatting on the phone. So, again THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! I will look forward to the next Dear Stranger exchange. Karen
Karen | April 2022 | Oregon
The stranger who wrote to me sounds melancholy, a notable contrast from my mood. At first I was disappointed, but the more I think about it, this is exactly why this project is successful: I benefit when reminded that there are differences in how people see the world. Not good, not bad, just different.
Julie | March 2022 | Portland
Keep this going please, great job!
imaj filmi | July 2021 |
I sent and received a "Dear Stranger" letter. The prompt was "food" and it was easy to write the letter and thrilling to receive one. My "Stranger" included her return address so I have already sent her a postcard and a letter is on the way to her today. No doubt I will jump at the chance to write to another stranger. Thanks providing an opportunity for people to connect in positive personal ways.
Neil Branson | April 2021 | Seaside, OR
I decided to participate in the "Dear Stranger" project, as soon as I read about it in the email from Oregon Humanities. I wrote my first letter in May 2020 and received a letter from my new pen pal a week later. We continue to write back & forth to each other. This has been one of the best things to happen since moving here in September 2019. Due to Covid, it has been so hard to get out and make new friends. But, thanks to this program, I now have someone it's been fun to get to know and with whom I can exchange letters. Thank you!
Linda Wilson | February 2021 | North Tabor, Portland OR
This is such a terrific idea! I’ve lived in Oregon for just under six months, having moved here in the middle of the pandemic. My husband and I love it here, but it is lonely—maintaining social distance, trying to stay safe. I’m retired, so I have almost no social interaction these days, but I love writing, and used to have some pretty robust written correspondences with others over the years. Looking forward to making some new acquaintances this way.
Tracy Fulton | January 2021 | Eugene, OR
Hi letter writers and friends of the pen and paper. I wrote my first Dear Stranger letter last year, and we decided to keep writing- and have sent a letters to each other every week. We have found a wonderful connection without internet, pictures, but using our words to meet each other and have our kitties also make new friends. For me our connection has helped to manage the roller coaster of living alone during this past year. It is an up beat in the day to receive a personal letter from my new friend. Be Brave- get out the pen and paper- and a stamp- and join in!
Sue Lopez | January 2021 | Ashland, Or
I enjoyed both writing and receiving letters from Strangers. The project made me feel included and hopeful about people who were experiencing many of the same feelings.
Susan Teece | January 2021 | SOUTHAMPTON
Love the pen pal idea. It could connect us as a community again when other circumstances are tearing us apart. It can be that light at the end of the tunnel😁. Question tho, would I need to start the letters out dear stranger? Or could I start them out dear friend or hello friend? Just wondering.
Carlene | July 2020 | Arizona
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
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