Penpalooza is, quite simply, a penpal exchange. It is a way to send and receive letters to and from strangers during the pandemic and beyond. It was started by New York City-based writer Rachel Syme (the team now also includes the Dublin-based Liz Maguire) in the spring of 2020 as a way to combat isolation during what we thought might be a short period of lockdown (lol, nope). Since launching, the program now has over 10,000 participants from over 50 countries sending letters to each other all around the globe. And you could be one of them!
As it turns out, there are no easy algorithms already set up for matching pen pals! So we turned to Elfster, a software that facilitates Secret Santas and gift exchanges, to pair people, as it had the best software for doing so. Now, Penpalooza is one of largest groups the site has ever had! One fun aspect of using Elfster is that you technically get two matches -- someone you are writing to first, and someone who writes you first, so there is no waiting to send your first letter. Your address remains private on the site and only available to view by the person assigned to write to you.
It IS just for letters. We just have no way to override the "gift exchange" language on Elfster. But just think of it this way: in this case, the "gift" you are sending is a letter. And what a gift that is!
You will get a name, via email, that you will write to first. Someone ELSE has gotten your name. If the system works as it should, you should send one letter, and receive one surprise letter as well! Many people now have two robust correspondences going.
Some people choose not to list their address (though the addresses are kept private on the site). You can message them within the Elfster system to ask for their details to begin an initial exchange. If this fails, email us! (see below).
At this point, because the exchange is so large and just two of us are managing it, we are not currently matching people under 18 to ensure that everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience. That said, we are looking into building a separate system for pairing parents who would like to connect via mail. Stay tuned!
After signing up, you should receive an email from Elfster within three days telling you that you have a match (a note: it will say you have a “gift” to send, but here, gift means letter!). If you do not get this email, check your spam! If you still don’t see it, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If it has been over a month and you haven't gotten a return letter please e-mail us at email@example.com. We can reach out to your penpal and see what the delay might be. Or we can get you a new match.
Email us with your FULL NAME and ADDRESS and we can get you a new match. Please note if you prefer a new domestic or international match. We can give you up to three new matches at a time.
You sure can. Please email us with your FULL NAME and ADDRESS and the number of extra matches (up to three) that you want. Please specify domestic or international, or a mix of both!
Start simple! A short postcard saying hello (with your return address, of course) is a great first step. Or you can write a little bit about yourself: what you see out of your window in the morning, what your daily routine is like, what prompted you to want to join a penpal program in the first place. A letter in the mail, no matter how short, is always better than no letter at all!
The members of #Penpalooza have gotten really creative with this, and you can too!. Think about including little extras: tea bags, stickers, leaves from your yard, pressed flowers, bookmarks, vintage postcards, polaroids of your pets, a poem, etc. If you want even more inspiration, you can follow along with the #penpalooza tag on Twitter, or subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter, where members of the Penpalooza community will share tips and tricks on gussying up your correspondence!
We will try to have answers. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.