Penpalooza - FAQ

What is Penpalooza? And who can join?

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!

Why is the sign-up on Elfster? Isn’t that a Secret Santa website?

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.

But wait. The Elfster site says "gift exchange." I thought this was for letters.

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!

And I get two penpals? How does that work?

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.

My penpal match did not list their address on the Elfster site.

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).

I see on the Elfster site, the exchange is for people over 18. I am younger than that. Can I still participate?

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!

I signed up on Elfster but never got a match. What do I do?

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

I wrote to my penpal, but it has been a long time now, and I have not heard back. What do I do?

If it has been over a month and you haven't gotten a return letter please e-mail us at We can reach out to your penpal and see what the delay might be. Or we can get you a new match.

I have been ghosted by all my penpals and still want to try again. How do I do that?

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.

My penpals are working out great, but I want MORE! Can I get additional matches?

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!

I got a match, and I'm excited to get going, but I don’t know what to write in my first letter. Help!

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!

Do you have any tips for making my letters feel a bit more special?

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!

Ok, I still have questions.

We will try to have answers. Email us at