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Loveland, Colorado will celebrate the 75th year of its valentine re-mailing program, where people around the world send valentines to be marked with a special postmark and stamp en route to their final destinations.
Even in a pandemic that feels never-ending and has altered so many normal aspects of human connection, residents in one Colorado city remain confident that love endures all.
Valentine’s Day in Loveland, Colorado is much more than a Hallmark holiday. For 75 years, the city has hosted a valentine re-mailing program, inviting people all over the world to send their cards to Loveland to be marked with a special love-themed collector’s stamp, poem and postmark en route to their final destinations.
The stamping is done by hand, courtesy of a group of longstanding volunteers, a coveted duty with a 100-person waiting list that, according to local legend, moves only when someone dies. In a regular year, 50 or so stampers pack together in a boardroom at the Loveland Chamber of Commerce to sort pastel-colored envelopes into bins and adorn them with the stamps. But with social distancing and public health guidelines in place, this year will look a little different, said Mindy McCloughan, the chamber’s president and CEO.
“Because of capacity, and by the variance rules, I can only put 10 people at a time in that boardroom for one-day shifts,” McCloughan said. “And our volunteers—most of them are elderly, so they’re in the higher-risk categories for the virus. We didn’t want to cancel the program, but our volunteers are our no.1 priority, and we had to make sure they stayed safe.”
Chamber officials asked long-time volunteers to sit out this year if they had pre-existing conditions or were in poor health. About 11 decided to stay on. So McCloughan opened the program to local businesses, allowing them to sponsor a day-long shift and staff it with 10 employees to sort and stamp envelopes. Because the program is so well-known—and so hard to get into—those spots went quickly, McCloughan said.
“For us, this is something that pulls our community together when it’s hurting the most,” she said. “People who live here get excited about it, and it helps us rebuild, and foster that positive mindset of sharing love versus the negative.”
The re-mailing program was created 75 years ago by a local stamp club, who thought the Valentine’s-themed postmark would be a fun oddity for stamp collectors. But it didn’t catch on. After several years, club members took the idea to the president of the local chamber of commerce, who rebranded the program with the “sweetheart angle.” The postmark, stamp and poem change every year, each designed or selected by a local artist, but other than that, the program has remained largely unchanged since.
Participation is free, minus the cost of postage. Participants address a valentine to the intended recipient, add a stamp, place it into another envelope, and send it on to Loveland by the deadline for their region. (People can also purchase a valentine from the city’s website and have it sent directly from the local post office.)
Stampers have handled mail from all 50 states and 110 countries. There have been envelopes sent from the White House and others addressed to Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion alongside valentines for patients at children’s hospitals and for military members serving overseas. There are huge envelopes, and postcards smaller than a 3"-by-5" index card, and thick or misshapen cards, which McCloughan called “chunky monkeys.” This year, the chamber launched Operation Love, encouraging people to also send letters of encouragement and donations to health-care workers, a new addition to the mail stream.
Overall, the volume of cards has dipped a bit in recent years, McCloughan said. At its peak, the program fielded upwards of 300,000 envelopes; in the past five years, it’s been between 100,000 to 120,000 annually. But this year, with millions of people enduring prolonged separations from their loved ones, could be different, said Jacki Marsh, Loveland’s mayor.
“I would imagine it will be one of the biggest years,” she said. “There is a human need to somehow physically connect with the people you care about, and there are a lot of people who haven’t seen their loved ones in a long time. It’s such a weird year, but that connection—touching something that somebody you love touched, and signed, and thought loving thoughts toward you, and put it in the mail—I think that will have extra meaning this year.”
Earl Serthe thinks so, too. Serthe, who helps run a local business and oversees a family philanthropy fund, sponsored stamping on Feb. 9, when he, his wife and a group of their friends will take over the chamber’s boardroom to sort and stamp valentines. It was a great chance to get in on the action, he said, (“That wait list is long and it’s been the same people for a long time!”) and also a rare chance to literally spread love during a hard time.
“It’s fun to be a part of love,” he said. “When you see those cards and you know that somebody is sending a card to a loved one, it makes you feel good, too. It’s pretty simple, really—it just comes down to love.”
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.