(Photo by Suzy Hazelwood of Pexels)
As Oregonians practice social distancing in hope of slowing the COVID-19 pandemic, many are searching for ways to find and maintain social connections across physical distance. Dear Stranger, a letter-exchange project from Oregon Humanities, offers a chance for connection by inviting Oregonians to write letters with someone they’ve never met.
Oregon Humanities is a statewide organization that brings people together to talk, listen and learn from one another. “The need for human connection feels more urgent than ever,” says Ben Waterhouse, communications manager for Oregon Humanities and creator of the Dear Stranger project. “We can’t bring people together in person right now, but we can still provide ways to reach out and be heard.”
The aim of Dear Stranger is to create shared understanding among Oregonians with different backgrounds, experiences and beliefs. The premise is simple: Write a letter, get a letter and make a new connection. Oregon Humanities has operated Dear Stranger since 2014, with each round of the project asking writers to address a different question or theme. In 2020, more than 250 people participated, with letters coming from 29 states (and one from Belgium).
This winter’s prompt for writers is about food: “How has your relationship with food — what you eat and how you get it — changed over the past year? What is a favorite meal of yours, and when is your first memory of that meal?”
Prompts for writing and instructions for participation are available on the Oregon Humanities website at oregonhumanities.org. Letters are swapped anonymously, and each person receives a letter from the person who received the one they wrote. What happens next is up to the writers. If they’d like to write back, they can do so through Oregon Humanities.
Letters should be addressed to Oregon Humanities, Attn: Dear Stranger, 921 SW Washington St., Suite 150, Portland, Oregon, 97205. Oregon Humanities will exchange letters mailed by February 28, 2021.
Questions about Dear Stranger should be directed to email@example.com.
Oregon Humanities connects people and communities through conversation, storytelling and participatory programs to inspire understanding and collaborative change. More information about the programs and publications — which include the Conversation Project, Bridging Oregon, Consider This, Humanity in Perspective, Public Program Grants, Responsive Program Grants and Oregon Humanities magazine — can be found at oregonhumanities.org.
Oregon Humanities is an independent, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities and a partner of the Oregon Cultural Trust.