It was an August day in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, when Allison Moir-Smith checked her mailbox and saw she’d received a letter from someone in Arkansas.
It was strange because the New England psychotherapist didn’t know anyone in Arkansas. Inside was a packet of wildflower seeds and a note of encouragement.
“Please accept these wildflowers… delight in childlike wonder at their beauty and reliance. They may go dormant for a while, but they’ll return to start anew, much like you will when this is all over. You may feel dormant, but you are beautiful and resilient, and you too will return to the things and people you love,” a portion of the note read.
At the time, the country was in the midst of a presidential election and the second wave of COVID-19 cases. The simple gesture of kindness presented by the letter made a lasting impact on Moir-Smith.
“Here I am months later still remembering how touched I was,” she said.
Included in the letter was an explanatory note. The anonymous letter from Arkansas had been inspired after the senders had received another letter with wildflower seeds and a note — from someone in Snoqualmie. A note included with the letter said it was part of a campaign called Kindness Across the Country, and included a P.O. box and email address.
Moir-Smith reached out, and soon enough was conversing with Savonnah Mitchell — the Snoqualmie teen who started the campaign.
Mitchell, 16, said last April, as the pandemic was kicking into full swing, she wrote a letter to her favorite author, John Green. She wrote to tell him how much she appreciated his work. This got her thinking about how it would feel to receive a letter from a stranger. The more the thought grew, the more she fleshed out an idea — to write one letter to a random address in each state.
“I just got super excited about having this project, specifically during COVID,” Mitchell said.
Using a random address generator from Google, Mitchell set about finding one house in all 50 states, and spent May and June writing every letter by hand. Each letter took between 15 to 20 minutes. On the covers, she included a different picture from nature she’d taken around the Pacific Northwest, and a packet of wildflower seeds, along with the note.
She sent them out last July, and waited. One letter went to the people in Arkansas, who were inspired to send their own batch of letters, one of which went to Moir-Smith in Massachusetts.
Thinking about the letter, Moir-Smith said it was an incredible project.
“It took a lot of effort to do 50 letters, absolutely, but the joy I have in my heart to this day for sending so much good energy and love to people who may not even know they need it has just buoyed me, and made me feel great,” Moir-Smith said. “So this is one of those I received something from a stranger, and I paid it forward.”
Moir-Smith decided to create and mail out her own 50 letters to low-income cities in each state. Instead of wildflowers, she’s sent two teabags with a note encouraging the recipients to “pour yourself a cup of tea and reflect on your inner strength that’s getting you through these difficult days.”
Mitchell said she’s heard of at least two people who have been inspired to write and send more letters.
“I’m hoping and guessing that more people have continued on this project,” she said. “I just haven’t been notified. So knowing that some people have, gives me hope that a lot of people had.”
When she started writing letters last spring, Mitchell said she was in a good place. Schools shutting down and transitioning to online learning felt like a welcome break from school — at least at the beginning.
Now, nearly a year later, she said school has become more difficult. But one thing that’s kept her going is checking her email inbox and seeing messages pop in from perfect strangers who received one of her letters.
“On those hard days, I’ll think of this project, and on those days, I’ll get emails back,” she said. “It’s really cool to see this ripple effect of kindness.”
While Mitchell doesn’t have plans to write more letters, she’s hoping to follow up with people who received hers. For those interested in continuing the project, Mitchell said she can be reached at Kindness Across the Country, P.O. Box 148, Snoqualmie, WA, 98065, or at firstname.lastname@example.org