In May, 11-year-old Emerson Weber went viral after writing a thoughtful letter to her mail carrier. Her gesture captured the hearts of many, and not only did Doug, her mailman, respond with a letter of his own, but thousands of other mail carriers also thanked her for appreciating their work during a time so tough and trying.
"I'm doing (school) virtually this year, which is another reason why I need the postal service just to keep in contact with my friends," the soon to be sixth-grade student in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, told TODAY via Skype.
Now, her story is being immortalized into a children’s book with HarperCollins that is a love letter to the United States Postal Service, and the essential role that they and other critical workers play amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"Especially right now, they're really grateful for being thanked because they don't get seen a lot, even though they pass in front of your house literally every day," she said. "And so it's just when I thank them, they're so grateful... I mean, it's just amazing how happy they were to know that I saw them even though I didn't directly write to them. They felt the connection."
Emerson's dad Hugh Weber explained how not only postal workers themselves have felt validated with Emerson's gesture, but their families have also articulated their appreciation as well.
"We’ve heard from so many, not only postal carriers themselves, but so many family members of postal carriers, an incredible amount of children, whose fathers and mothers were part of the U.S. postal service," Weber explained to TODAY. "And even though the letter didn’t go to them, they feel so seen in that process that it’s a pretty rewarding daily exercise now."
Emerson's love for writing was inherited from her mother, who also happened to be her fifth grade writing teacher last year.
"I really got that love of writing from her and I've been writing letters for a while," she shared. "I've had a really long pen pal relationship with my librarian, Mrs. Versteeg, since third grade, and I feel like that was one of my real ones along with my pen pals Kristin and Sherry. But I've just loved letter writing for a long time, and I leave little notes around the house sometimes too."
Before her viral moment, Emerson already listed six or seven pen pals she stayed in contact with via letter writing. Now, that number has jumped to about 25.
"There's some people who wrote to me, and I wrote back to them once or twice, but then there's some people who've really stuck around. So I have quite a few now."
Her dad elaborated on the significance of their viral story.
"Emerson early on started to say, that this isn’t a girl writes a letter story, this is an anyone can write a letter story, and I think that’s become our mantra," he told TODAY. "That, the best thing we can do for the US postal service right now, is to write letters, to buy stamps, to kind of, spread that love ... so many people have a fond memory of the postal carrier from when they were a kid, or the person they see now, kind of on a day to day basis, so Emerson looks fondly at Doug."
Hugh Weber acknowledged the recent concerns with the USPS and the upcoming presidential election. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said Tuesday the agency will suspend any policy or operational changes until after the election. Critics decry DeJoy, a Trump ally and Republican donor, was purposely hurting the ability of the postal service to accommodate mail-in voting.
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"I think this is a time when we are physically disconnected, and you really begin to recognize fully who and how we are actually deeply interconnected… the postal service, we believe, is one true non-partisan entity out in the world," he said. "We believe it shouldn’t be political, and it serves us whether we’re in a small town in South Dakota, or Williamsburg, Brooklyn...it’s something that we think is essential, and the workers, the carriers themselves, are essential. And it makes us all the more present in a moment like this."
This moment for Emerson just got a whole little bigger. Not only did her idol Taylor Swift recognize her support with a special package and message, Emerson is about to be a published author as well.
On Thursday, it was announced that HarperCollins is releasing a picture book on Jan. 5, 2021 all about her incredible viral story titled, "Sincerely, Emerson."
"This is a story of gratitude, hope, and recognition: for all the essential helpers we see everyday, and all those who go unseen," a description for the book reads.
Emerson still doesn't have a phone, but she promises even when she gets one one day, she will still write letters.
"And even when I get a phone, I mean, it's just not the same," she said. "Like, I call my grandmother lots but today I got a letter from her. And it's just so much better to get in first letters. And when they see how long you took to write them, or even a short note, they know you spent time to think about them, and it just makes them really happy."