While attending a breast cancer walk with his family last April in Ocean City, Darrell Robertson discovered Girls Love Mail, a non-profit that encourages handwritten letters of support to women with breast cancer.
The children's services supervisor at Carroll County Public Library's Finksburg branch had an idea.
"I'm always looking for things in the community we can partner with," Robertson said. "I thought it would be a perfect organization to partner with. I thought we could help spread the word."
With October designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Robertson set up a table and a "mailbox" in the library on the first day of the month.
He also put out pens and paper and encouraged everyone to write a letter to a breast cancer patient.
"I was still setting up the table and someone came and dropped off a letter," Robertson said earlier this week on the campaign's immediate effect.
No postage is required. Participants just place their letters in the library's "mailbox." Robertson will collect all the letters at the end of the month and mail them to the non-profit in California. The organization will then distribute them through cancer centers and doctor's offices around the country, according to its website.
Along with the library's letters, Robertson reached out to the area schools' media specialists and encouraged them to have students write letters.
"They took it from there," said Robertson, who has received several packages of letters from the schools. Many of the school letters were written in crayons and decorated with stickers and ribbons.
"The misspellings, they put a smile on my face," Robertson said, as he went through a bag. "I think they are going to go a long way to brighten somebody's spirits when they read them."
Under the guidance of Megan Whitehead, media specialist at Ebb Valley Elementary School in Manchester, fourth- and fifth-grade students learned about Breast Cancer Awareness month and the opportunity to write a letter for Girls Love Mail.
"Almost all the children chose to write a letter," Whitehead said, with pride. "They wrote really nice, powerful letters with kind words. It was a great program to participate in."
Gina Mulligan, founder of Girls Love Mail, said that the Finksburg branch is the first library she knows of to take on the project.
She knows firsthand the effect handwritten letters can have. A five-year cancer survivor, she received more than 200 letters and cards while in treatment, she said in an email.
"What sticks in my mind are all the letters from strangers — friends of friends who heard about my diagnosis," Mulligan wrote. "That strangers took time to write really made me feel comforted, and I believe the letters helped me heal."
"Cancer is very hard, even for adults to wrap their heads around," said Robertson, who has two children. "This introduces cancer to kids. It approaches it as somebody being sick and how to care."
Though the library has collected many letters and will continue to accept them until the end of the month, Robertson said he is not measuring his campaign's impact by simply adding the number of letters left at the branch on Old Westminster Pike. It was a success on the first day.
"One letter can make a difference," Robertson said. "If there was only one letter, I would consider it a success."