A Port Stephens Facebook group that was devised over a cup of coffee during the coronavirus lockdown and has flourished into a thriving movement has been recognised by the platform giant for its exceptional community outcomes.
Heart Letter Pen, the brainchild of Corlette's November Sheehan, was established to provide support to aged care residents, the lonely and people feeling anxious during the global pandemic.
"Before my mum passed away some years ago, I would write her letters and cards every week because I could not always get down to Sydney to visit," said Ms Sheehan.
"I was thinking about residents in nursing homes and in isolation during COVID when it dawned on me, maybe we can get locals to write letters to them."
Ms Sheehan set up Heart Letter Pen last July and in just eight months the group has delivered more than 5,000 cards and letters to the aged and lonely, as well as people with anxiety and depression. And what's more the idea has gone national.
This remarkable achievement was recently recognised by Facebook when it recently announced winners of its Facebook Australia Groups Fund, receiving a $10,000 grant.
A Facebook spokesperson said that the $500,000 fund, established in 2020, was designed to support groups which are leading grassroots community relief or recovery efforts and building resilience in communities that have been affected by crisis such as the bushfires and COVID-19.
"Heart Letter Pen ticks all the boxes, it is a space for the community to mobilise to write letters and cards for the elderly, to help reduce loneliness, stress and isolation."
Ms Sheehan said that money had come in handy to help pay for a new printer, inkjets, stationary, cards and a post office box.
"For eight months I have funding this work on my own, so receiving this grant has come as a huge relief. I am neither a charity nor a not-for-profit, so I have to raise whatever funds I can ... for that I am most grateful to Facebook."
The concept behind Heart Letter Pen enables people from all over Australia to come together online and design beautiful handmade cards or letters with words of respect, encouragement and kindness.
The cards are then placed into conveniently located mailboxes and collected by partners Sunnyfield Disability Services and sent on to the aged.
Ms Sheehan says she has become so emotionally involved in her work that there could be no turning back. "The fact is that many of these people were feeling lonely and anxious before the pandemic hit."
She says that she has been overwhelmed by the support of like-minded volunteers and the messages of gratitude from aged care residents. "Our aim is to assist in reducing the feelings of loneliness, anxiety and isolation in the elderly living at home or in aged care facilities across Australia."
Mailboxes can be found in Port Stephens at the Corlette Store, Spirited Cafe, Tomaree High, Tomaree Public, Shoal Bay Public, St Philip's Christian, OPAAT Nelson Bay, PCYC Raymond Terrace, Active Fitness Medowie, Freaky FX Anna Bay, Tomaree Library, Nelson Bay Health Foods, David Vitnell Solicitors and some post offices.
She said she hoped to distribute 3000 cards for Mother's Day.
"Locals can help by placing a Mother's Day card into one of the Heart Letter Pen mailboxes, join the Facebook group, make cards or write in them."
The Heart Letter Pen is at PO Box 222, Nelson Bay 2315.
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