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Grace notes

Postcard project lifts pandemic spirits

Mary Steinbicker sent a postcard to a different acquaintance every day last year, aiming to spread joy through the U.S. Mail.

Mary Steinbicker puts her own stamp on Minnesota nice.

Last year, the Minnetonka resident sent out a postcard a day as part of a resolution/retirement project she designed to send kindness and cheer through the U.S. Mail.

Steinbicker retired as a children’s librarian in January 2020 and knew she needed a project to start her next chapter. She had consulted with retirees before the big step and noted that they all had a personal mission to tide them over.

“Most had plans to travel, or visit grandkids, or clean closets,” she said with a chuckle.

What would she do?

Enter the postcard. Steinbicker had long been drawn to the format, from travels as a kid — “It was the one thing your family might be able to afford at a destination” — to including them in her wedding.

Yes, you read that right. She and her now-husband Bill asked guests to bring postcards in lieu of gifts to their later-in-life nuptials because the pair saw it as more meaningful than the usual stuff and a fun way to get to know their guests better.

Because people know of her predilection, she had a ready supply of donated postcards on hand, and the 35-cent postage appealed to her “very frugal” nature.

She comes from a big family and has a wide circle of friends from church and her work in the library, so she had plenty of recipients to kick things off. Church and neighborhood directories were handy for acquaintances.

The Postcard Project was a go.

Her approach was systematic, as you might expect from a librarian.

She kept a log of every recipient so there were no repeats. A letter might begin “Dear Recipient, You are No. 138 in my Postcard Project.” That would be followed by a few sentences tailored to the person and a disclaimer that she wasn’t at the site on the postcard — a necessary caveat during the coronavirus pandemic, in her view.

Steinbicker saw it as especially important for children to experience mail as something positive. She knew from her work that, for so many families, “the mail doesn’t hold much appeal,” she said. She wanted to show children that mail was more than bills and ads; that it could be a source of joy.

On Jan. 1, 2020, she sent her first postcard for the project to a former colleague’s 9-year-old son.

She is effusive in her praise of the Postal Service. After a newspaper feature about her ran on a Saturday, she received a solidarity postcard from a fellow aficionado in Hudson, WI.

“It got to Minnetonka on Monday,” she said with awe.

The project lives on in 2021 in a more sporadic form, rather than daily. She calls it her “Intermittent Postcard Project.”

On hearing that this piece would be published in Link, she had a simple request: “Thank all your letter carriers,” she said.

“Tell them I couldn’t have done it without the Post Office.”

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