A student-led initiative to send letters to frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic has sent more than 13,000 letters to people in over 40 states.
Six Penn students and one Cornell University student joined forces in April 2020 to launch Lockdown Letters. While they originally targeted health care workers, they have since expanded the project to include other essential workers such as grocery store employees and firefighters, in an effort to boost morale by encouraging people to write letters thanking frontline workers for their contributions in fighting the pandemic.
Participants can submit letters through a Google Form on Lockdown Letters' website using templates for hand-written and typed messages.
In the past year, their project has gained national attention from hospitals and corporations, including a request from Johnson & Johnson to have their employees volunteer with the organization. The initiative has also grown to include video projects and letter-writing "power hours" with Penn student organizations.
College sophomore and Lockdown Letters Ambassador Nour Aboelez said the initiative started as a way to express support for frontline workers at the start of the pandemic.
Many frontline workers, particularly in health care, have experienced burnout and deteriorating mental health since the onset of the pandemic. Some health care workers have said they no longer feel like heroes after receiving huge public displays of gratitude in the spring and summer.
“[Frontline workers] are really contributing and putting their lives at risk,” Aboelez said. “Being part of Lockdown Letters is a way for us to give back to these heroes.”
Lockdown Letters has touched the hearts of many frontline workers, receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from many letter recipients.
College junior and Lockdown Letters Vice President Joey Lohmann added that the virtual nature of the initiative allows people to support frontline workers while following public safety guidelines.
“I knew that I needed to remain safe myself [and] keep my family safe, but there were ways in which I could help those that were putting their lives on the line and protecting the vulnerable,” he said.
For Aboelez, the impact of Lockdown Letters was personal. Many of her family members worked on the front lines of the pandemic, and she has witnessed firsthand how difficult the past year has been for them.
“[Lockdown Letters] is very dear to me, because I’ve seen the toll this has taken,” she said. “As community members we can do our part in trying to raise morale and show [frontline workers] that we do appreciate and we do support all the work [they’re] doing.”
Lockdown Letters Chief of Press and Partnerships and 2020 College graduate Rupa Palanki said the team’s experiences holding leadership positions at Penn helped shape the initiative.
“Just seeing how the things we learned at Penn expand to things we either create at Penn or create outside of Penn was really interesting to me,” Palanki said. “It was really cool to see how that’s grown over the last year.”
Lockdown Letters plans to continue its work for as long as COVID-19 persists. Once the initiative stops writing letters, members hope to create a documentary-style film to showcase the project’s accomplishments over the past year.
Lockdown Letters President, 2020 College graduate, and School of Social Policy & Practice first-year student Preethi Kumaran said she has already been amazed by Lockdown Letters' impact.
“It was nice to see that a small group of seven kids was able to touch the lives of people from Maine to Hawaii,” she said.