By Steve Guntli
When William Thomas, 12, made his Christmas list this year, it included his usual favorites: lots of DVDs, drawing paper and snacks. But he also had a unique request that took his mother by surprise: mail.
William is severely autistic and unable to speak. He mostly communicates through signing or writing. As can be imagined, this makes it difficult for him to connect with other people. Although he rarely gets invited to birthday parties or play dates, his mother, Kay Thomas, insists he’s just like any other child.
“He’s a normal kid, just like anyone else, but people have a hard time seeing past the autism sometimes,” she said. “It’s not anyone’s fault, it just is what it is.”
William has always loved to receive mail. He gets letters a few times a year from family members in Canada and Arizona, and going to the post office is one of his favorite activities. So this year, he asked his mother for mail, which she believes gives her son a way to connect with the outside world.
Kay was deeply moved by her son’s request, because he rarely changes his routine or asks for anything new. But now she was faced with a difficult problem: where was she going to get the mail?
At first, she thought she would just petition “Team William,” the group of family, friends and teachers that help William out in his day-to-day life. Kay turned to Facebook. She created a page called William’s Mail, invited the members of Team William to join and on November 25 she posted her story.
“I have been racking my brains for a couple weeks,” she wrote. “I want to make this year special for this most special boy. He has nothing but love in him and I want him to feel the love from others. If you want to help a kind soul this year, I am asking for strangers to send him mail.”
Kay was expecting 50, maybe 100 people to respond. But within a matter of hours, the page went viral. Thousands of people “liked” the post almost immediately, and the mail started coming in the next day. Kay began receiving one or two letters each day, then 20 or so, then more than 50. On December 8, more than 500 letters were waiting for William.
The project has spread farther and faster than Kay could have anticipated. Nearly 3,000 people have liked the post, and another 4,000 have shared it on their own page. USA Today, BuzzFeed News, KING 5, Reddit and even newspapers in Italy and the U.K. have picked up the story. Autism Speaks, one of the largest autism advocacy groups in the country, reposted Kay’s Facebook post, and from there it was shared another 16,000 times.
The post office was making multiple trips to the Thomas’ home each day. That was when Kay decided to get a mailbox just for William’s letters. She soon began to worry, though, that she wouldn’t be able to afford the shipping fees. That’s when Hagen’s of Blaine offered to donate a box specifically for William’s Mail.
“They have been just so incredible,” Kay said. “This never would have worked if it wasn’t for their generosity.”
Kay is boxing up most of the letters and saving them for Christmas, but she’s started hiding some of the mail around the house and sending William on scavenger hunts.
Kay plans to buy a world map to hang on William’s bedroom wall, so he can put pins in all the places his mail comes from. She’s already had people mailing letters from Ireland, Australia, Greece, Holland and about half a dozen other countries. Some people have included small gifts, such as snacks from other countries, homemade blankets and lots of children’s drawings.
Kay realized that responding to all of the letters would be too difficult for William and too expensive for her. She is planning to start another Facebook group, which would allow people who wrote to William to follow up on his progress and connect with one another.
The outpouring of support has given Kay new faith in the goodness of humanity.
“We live in a world that’s so negative,” she said. “So when you get people from around the world writing in and seeing William for the cool, funny kid that he is, and being so compassionate and so generous, it’s just amazing. This is the world I want to raise my son in.”
To send William a letter, address it to William’s Mail, PMB 175, 816 Peace Portal Drive, Blaine, WA, 98230. Visit the Facebook page at facebook.com/mail4william.