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Human link: Couple helping the Valley's homeless write free letters home
It's been almost a year since Greg Barber first got the idea for Free Letters Home.
From their first trial run in mid-January through today, he and his wife, Stacey, have been connecting families, accepting unexpected and unsolicited donations, and becoming more sure each day that they are doing a good thing.
The problem is, "I keep thinking, this is such a simple idea, so what's wrong with it?" Greg said.
The Snohomish couple's Free Letters Home project, expanded this fall to the Snoqualmie Valley, is as simple as things get. Greg and Stacey started with a lot of stamps, some leftover stationery from Stacy's stash, and a simple hope from Greg for Valentine's Day. "All I wanted was for some kids to hear from their fathers for Valentine's Day," he said.
That first Sunday, the couple set up a table with pens, papers, and stamps, across from a gathering spot for homeless people in Everett, and then Greg told Stacey to wait, safely, in the car. He planned to sit at the table alone, and offer people a chance to write and send a letter home, for free.
"I didn't know what would happen," he said. "What if a drug dealer tried to kill me for being on his turf?"
But Stacy wouldn't have it.
"These people are out there," she said. "Wy should I stay in a nice warm car?"
So, they both sat at the table, and quietly provided the opportunity together. They decided not to ask questions of anyone, and just offer the occasional spelling help, when needed.
"Greg's a good speller," says Stacey, with a smile.
If the letter-writers agreed to it, their letters were stamped with "freelettershome.com" which is the only advertising the Barbers have done for their project, before they were mailed.
The response was small at first, but powerful. A few people wrote letters. Drivers stopped as they passed by to ask about the program, then handed over $10 or $20 bills "for stamps" before driving off. People started sharing their stories.
Greg remembered hearing from one man, now a businessman, about how a similar opportunity in New York years ago when he was homeless reconnected him with his estranged family and changed his life. Later, the couple heard from another family who got some help and returned to Alaska, to start over.
Before the month was out, Greg asked Stacey if the project could continue. She agreed right away, saying "It feels good to help people."
"I didn't set out to get people off the streets," Greg said. "For me, the project is about family, not homelessness. It's about families, and people, and communities."
Carmichael's True Value Hardware in Snoqualmie has a collection box on display, for people to donate their unused holiday cards, birthday cards, sympathy cards and almost any-other-occasion cards.