Christina Sayoc dreamed of starting a pen pal program for years.
Then, when the political and financial crises surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and mail-in voting began affecting the United States Postal Service this summer, it gave her a new sense of urgency.
“With them making most of their money through stamps, we figured how we could encourage more stamps to be bought and sold,” Sayoc, a senior business management major said.
Sayoc, alongside her sister Sabrina Sayoc and their friend Amanda Glazer, started a letter-writing program in August to support the USPS by having participants buy stamps to send letters to their pen pal.
So far, the project has more than 80 participants. Most are from Pennsylvania and Ohio, but the program has international participants, too, Christina Sayoc said.
The project, managed through a Google Form, matches participants within a few days to write letters to each other, said Christina Sayoc.
The Google Form asks questions about participants’ hobbies and interests, talents and how frequently they want to communicate with their pen pal. The team connects the pen pals by email to initiate sending the first letter. Then, they prompt the pen pals to communicate independently, said Christina Sayoc.
Pen pal programs have popped up globally through the COVID-19 pandemic, to keep senior centers, schools and libraries connected, the New York Times reported.
Controversy surrounding the USPS escalated since Louis Dejoy, its postmaster general, has proposed changes to the postal system, like cutting overtime and post office hours, since taking over the position in June, CNN reported.
In a year in which a record number of voters are expected to cast ballots by mail, public outrage over the proposals led to the changes being suspended until after the general election this November, the New York Times reported.
But, for Christina Sayoc, the concern was more than political, she said. She wanted to help USPS employees too.
“No one talks about the things that [the USPS] are actually doing in our economy,” Christina Sayoc said. “They aren’t just a big company, they are actively working to bring jobs to those who are unable to.”
Sabrina Sayoc sees supporting the USPS as one of the team’s key goals, she said.
“We understand the importance of the USPS and how crucial it is to our lives,” Sabrina Sayoc said. “Doing what we can to save the USPS and contribute to their funds was our main motivator. Being able to connect individuals and help build these networks is a rewarding bonus.”
Christina Sayoc enjoys the way she gets to match participants, she said.
“It’s fun,” Christina Sayoc said. “We are hand-matching everyone. We aren’t doing it based on one thing, we are doing it based on every aspect. That means you may have to wait a week before you find a perfect person, but better to find a perfect person than a dud match. No duds yet, but I’m hoping for none.”
Cierra Ortiz, a senior natural sciences major, matched with Maggie Foight, a student at Kenyon University in Gambier, Ohio.
“So far, I’m loving the experience,” Ortiz said. “She is so lovely and sweet in this introductory letter, and I already wrote out my reply. I’m just excited to get to know a stranger in a completely unbiased way.”
Ortiz was inspired to sign up for the program because of her mother, she said.
“When [my mother] was younger, she had a pen pal and she really enjoyed it,” Ortiz added. “It was a fond memory of hers that she doesn’t want to forget.”
People have donated to the program to sponsor participants who can’t afford stamps and envelopes, Christina Sayoc said.
The team wants to keep growing the project as much as possible, Christina Sayoc said.
“We’d love to see this project continue and continue to connect individuals from all over with the common goal of supporting the USPS and making new friendships,” Sabrina Sayoc said.