How often do you open your letterbox to find personalised handwritten cards asking after you?

These days, with social distancing measures in the new normal, most of us have found new virtual ways of catching up with loved ones and new avenues of digital entertainment online in the safety of our own homes.

But not all parts of society are as digitally savvy. In particular, the elderly in Singapore who may be suffering alone and in silence.

Hey, You Got Mail!, a non profit initiative is here with a solution.

It was set up by six friends – all either 19 or 20 – during the circuit breaker with the aim of combating social isolation in Singapore. The inspiration came about when co-founder Jaslyn Muk was working with her friend Joanne Yep on producing digital art commissions to donate to the Covid-19 relief organisations.

Seeing the social isolation trend worsening as a result of the ongoing social distancing measures, both Jaslyn and Joanne thought to raise awareness about this phenomenon.

“We decided that we wanted to do something for the socially isolated in Singapore, particularly the elderly,” says Jaslyn.

They got together with four other friends – Triston Tan, Tan Wei Lin, Park Ji Won and Advait Deshpande – whom they had known since junior college and came up with the idea of creating handwritten, personalised mail as a way of helping Singaporeans to check in on their loved ones and to help someone they don’t know. And this was how Hey, You Got Mail! was set up.

“We recognise that during the Covid-19, it may be hard for us to spend time with the seniors in our lives and so by sending handmade cards to seniors in nursing homes, we hope to brighten their day!” says Joanne.

With just $2, anyone can buy a card to be mailed to their loved ones, and the team will send another card to a senior in a nursing home in their name.

Explains Joanne: “In doing so, not only can you send a card to your loved ones to check in on them, but your donation also extends kindness to a stranger in one of our partner beneficiaries!”

Senior reading handwritten postcard
An elderly resident from one of the partner beneficiaries reading one of the cards. Image source: Renci @ Ang Mo Kio

“We also hope to inspire more Singaporeans to check in regularly and spend more time with their elderly relatives and family (or even their friendly neighborhood auntie!),” adds Jaslyn.

The problem of social isolation in Singapore

Through this project, the team hopes to highlight a problem that is under-recognised during this pandemic.

Many of our elderly population are forced to spend most of their time at home.

Some of them only make the daily trip to the supermarket and many of them are unable to have their children or grandchildren over for a family dinner. Furthermore, many of them do not have the luxury or knowhow of turning to their phone for games or watching Netflix to entertain themselves.

Happy seniors receive handwritten cards
Seniors receiving handmade cards. Image source: Renci @ Ang Mo Kio

“These are all small factors that lead to the worsening of social isolation amongst our elderly population,” explains Jaslyn.

Each member of the team put their skills and talents to use: Ranging from new content design, social media outreach coordination and website maintenance to management of funds, donations, logistics as well as outreach and collaboration with beneficiaries and partners.

Youths in Singapore making cards
Volunteers making cards at Our Tampines Hub. Image source: Hey, You Got Mail!

Every two weeks, the team also gets a pool of 40 to 50 volunteers who help out in the card making process. Messages from the public are written on the cards by the volunteers who also help with craft work such as folding the team’s iconic 3D umbrella in the center of the card.

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Volunteers can also make these cards in the comfort of their homes and pass it back to the team when they are done and this flexibility has allowed the team to reach out to many more volunteers.

Triston, who is in charge of Liaison and Outreach tells The Pride: “Currently, our goal is to deliver a total of one thousand cards to our partner nursing homes and senior care centers and to form long-term relationships with the residents. As of September, we have just hit 800!”

Extending love and encouragement through messages

Covid-19 restrictions set in place by the nursing homes made it difficult for the team to deliver the cards to the elderly in person.

Youths dropping off cards to nursing homes
Team members dropping off cards at the partner nursing homes. Image source: Hey, You Got Mail!

Says Triston: “Due to the quarantine measures, we were only able to drop them off at the front counter and seek the assistance of the staff to distribute them.

“This lack of face to face interaction made it hard for us to spend quality time with them and build bonds. However, despite these regulations, we have tried our best to extend our love and encouragement through the messages conveyed in the cards.”

Despite the challenges, the team says that they were heartened by hearing the reactions of the elderly recipients from the nursing staff. They were told that elderly enjoyed the colourful drawings and vibrant 3-D umbrella in the card also brought smiles their faces.

Happy seniors with handwritten cards
Seniors receiving the handmade card. Image source: Renci @ Bukit Batok St 52

“Even though we’re not physically there with the seniors, knowing that we made an impact – no matter how small – reassures us that we’re on the right page. We’re doing what we intend to do, which is to spread good vibes, one card at a time,” says Jaslyn.

A reminder that we are not alone

Looking to continue this project, the team hopes to inspire more Singaporeans to reach out and care for the people they love.

They plan to continue reaching out to as many isolated Singaporeans as possible by working with organisations or people who want to send cards to the socially isolated.

“I can’t say for sure if this will be a long-term project but we certainly will remain committed to the cause as long as social isolation remains a problem in Singapore,” says Triston.

“We would also like to thank the Temasek Trust [email protected] fund for their support in our initiative,” says Jaslyn.

Making cards for elderly
Image source: Hey, You Got Mail!

The team has also partnered with local publisher and online bookstore BooksActually in a new initiative titled “Story For A Story”, which looks to collect and share stories of people’s treasured memories with seniors in the community.

This initiative aims to inspire readers to reflect on their own experiences and reach out to a senior they care about.

So, wait no more and tell your story today at https://heyyougotmail.com/sfas/!

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Top Image: Hey, You Got Mail!