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Valentine's Day card exchange spreads love

Dawn Olsen is using her love for the written word to spread the love across Indianapolis this Valentine's Day.

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indianapolis neighbor is spreading love for the upcoming Valentine's Day holiday, making sure no one feels alone.

She's "Inspiring Indiana" by sending smiles to people's mailboxes.

Dawn Olsen, the president of the Fletcher Place Neighborhood Association, drew inspiration from her own love for greeting cards and the handwritten word.

As a writer, it's no surprise that Olsen holds onto her correspondence. She has a boxful of cards and notes that she's kept for decades.

"These are all letters from one of my oldest friends," Olsen shared, sorting through the stacks of personal papers. "This is from my grandma, who I was close with. It's nice to be able to flip through these and see her handwriting. And these are all letters from some old boyfriend! I have a lot of cat cards, too 'cause everybody knows I'm a cat person. I have birthday cards in here from when I was 4."

Each card captures a message, a memory and a moment in time.

"Oh, this is from my friend in Australia: '50 shades of g'day,' it says. And oh my God, here's a homemade birthday card my mom made, with pictures of me," Olsen said laughing. "Look at my sweet glasses! I don't know, I've just always kept these. No matter what, it's nice to have something that this person touched, you know, at some point in time. It's something so personal."

Credit: WTHR
Dawn Olsen looks through the greeting cards she's received and collected through the years.

It's that personal connection that inspired Olsen, during the pandemic, to extend the kindness to her neighbors in Indianapolis.

Even in the close-knit community of Fletcher Place, COVID-19 has kept people apart.

Olsen thought what better time to bring them back together than the king of card holidays?

"I just want everyone to feel supported and not forgotten, especially after the past year," she said. "I treat Valentine's Day as much more, like I want to show my family, my friends, just everyone that I appreciate them, that they matter."

So, she's now sharing the love through a mail swap.

Olsen started a Valentine's Day card exchange between strangers that works like Secret Santa.

"A person will sign up for the swap, and they will get assigned totally at random a person to send a card to, and they will mail each other cards," Olsen explained. "It can be handmade, it can be store-bought, it can be vintage — whatever they want to send their partner."

From the online sign-ups, it seems a lot of people are craving connection right now.

"I was hoping maybe 16 people would be interested, and it's definitely more than that," she said. "Even though it was geared toward people just in Fletcher Place, it's become a citywide kind of a thing."

Credit: WTHR
Some of the Valentine's Day cards in Dawn Olsen's collection.

More than 80 people and counting will get cards on Valentine's Day, thanks to the mail swap.

Olsen believes this will create a moment of joy in Hoosier mailboxes, when we all could use a little bit of love.

"That's the first piece of mail I guarantee you're just going to rip open, and especially after a really hard year where maybe a lot of people feel lonely or forgotten, they know that someone took the time to write them and reach out to them," Olsen said.

Although the deadline has passed to participate in the Valentine's Day card exchange, Olsen said she might try to do this again in the future because of the great response.