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Knoxville woman writes more than 850 letters to send smiles to others

After being laid off at the beginning of the pandemic, one woman used her free time to write letters to those in nursing homes and to frontline workers.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — One Knoxville woman turned her free time during the COVID-19 pandemic into smiles for those in East Tennessee and beyond.

"It was really disheartening," said Kate Henschel. "And I mean, I've never been laid off before and I was really worried."

Kate Henschel's back was against the wall. She said that she did not do well spending her days at home, not having to go to work. But wither her newfound free time, she made it her goal to make others smile.

"I just think that there is nothing that says, 'I'm thinking about you, I care about you, I'm here for you,' more than taking the time to sit down and write in a card, seal the envelope and actually send it," said Henschel.

She knows on a personal level how important they are. When she was in the hospital, around a decade ago, she said the only things she had to look forward to were milkshakes, pet therapy and getting mail.

Now, her letters stretch from East Tennessee all across the U.S.

"Found a place in Pennsylvania, I found a place in Wisconsin," Henschel said.

With more than 850 handwritten letters already sent out to those shut-in due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as in nursing homes and frontline workers, Kate says there's more work to do. However, she also said that the responses she's gotten make it worth it.

"When I started getting mail back from them thanking me and telling me how much the residents were loving my cards, that's kind of when I realized like, 'okay, this isn't just going to be like a weekend thing,'" she said.

Kate is gearing up to send out around 200 more letters before Christmas. She said it will take a lot of cards, lots of diet cokes and lots of Taylor Swift to finish sending them and to make as many people smile as possible.