Library holds letter-writing campaign for troops

by: VERN UYETAKE - Librarian Rebecca Mayer aims to write a letter a day for Operation Gratitude during a month-long letter-writing campaign at the library.November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). How can you combine honoring veterans, being thankful and composition? How about writing a letter of thanks to a current or former member of the military through Operation Gratitude? The West Linn Public Library is making it easy, too, through a letter drive it is holding this month.

Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude has been sending out 100,000 care packages and letters a year to United States service members, as well their children, wounded service members, veterans and first responders.

The goal of the nonprofit is to raise spirits and morale of those serving in the military, as well as show appreciation for their commitment. Librarian Rebecca Mayer thought of the letter drive after being touched by the program herself.

Mayer came across this quote from John F. Kennedy: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” She was inspired. Back in July, Mayer sat down regularly to write letters for Operation Gratitude.

“I felt like I was doing something,” she said.

The first letter was the hardest, she admitted, not sure where to begin or what to write. She was unsure of her messy handwriting and worried not sounding eloquent. But then she remembered most of the people in the service are young men and women who just want to hear about home and get a smile. So, she decided to pretend she was just talking to a friend.

Operation Gratitude has some letter guidelines to follow, such staying positive, upbeat and thankful, while avoiding discussion of politics, religion, death and killing. They suggest talking about sports, weather, pets, family, hobbies, movies and music. Children are also encouraged to participate and can write letters or draw pictures.

Mayer likes to start each of her letters with a joke. She then introduces herself and talks about her job and hobbies. She also asks a lot of questions.

“It’s nice when someone asks you a question. It shows they care about you,” Mayer said. “They love hearing about home and mundane things. I keep it really simple.”

For the past three years, Mayer has participated in NaNoWriMo. But this year, she has a new writing challenge. She is going to write a letter for each day in November for Operation Gratitude. Since some letters can be written in as little as five minutes, she sees this goal as highly attainable.

She is also recruiting the staff at the library to step up and write along with the West Linn community. The library will have a letter writing station set up near the lobby — complete with letterhead and writing utensils. Downstairs, there will be a picture drawing station for children.

“I think the kids’ letters and pictures are the favorites,” Mayer said. “The kids are just so sweet. I think that comes across.”

Mayer is hoping to bust her postage budget with a massive collection of letters.

“Almost everybody is touched by the military in some way,” Mayer said, adding that most people know someone in the military or who has served.

Whether written at home and dropped off at the library or written on site, Mayer urges people to handwrite the letters to make them more personable. However, typed letters will also be accepted.

Mayer said there is something special about sitting down and composing a letter as compared to typing up emails and texts.

“We aren’t really taking the time to choose our words,” she said of email. “You have to really think about the words you are using and practice awareness. It’s a good practice for creativity.”

Though there is no autocorrect on a handwritten note, sometimes the mistakes are what make the letters and the people behind them more real.

“I really want this to be a focus on a positive thing. This community can come together and do something positive,” Mayer said. “I anticipate most people...can get behind the idea of supporting somebody who is putting their life on the line...This may be the only thank you they get. Why wouldn’t you do it?”

The West Linn library will send letters to deployed troops, wounded service members and veterans. Writers can designate a particular group if they wish. The letters will be sent in the beginning of December.

For more information about Operation Gratitude, visit

Want to write a letter but don’t know where to start?

  • Start your letter with a salutation, such as "Dear Service Member" or "Dear Hero."
  • Express your thanks for their selfless service. Be positive, upbeat and thankful.
  • Avoid politics completely and religion in excess; however, saying you pray for them is wonderful.
  • Share a little about yourself. Talk about life back home, including sports, weather, pets, family, hobbies, music and movies.
  • Ask questions; however, do not discuss death or killing.
  • Ask yourself: Will this letter bring a smile to someone's face?
  • Adults: Include your contact information (mail or email) so the recipient may reply.
  • Children: First names only and no addresses.
  • Make sure letters, artwork and greeting cards are loose or in unsealed envelopes they will be screened.
  • Still can't find the words? Consider drawing or painting a picture instead. (Please avoid glitter)
  • Submitted by the West Linn Public Library

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