It started with a simple request on Facebook, to please send mail to a young autistic man who enjoys his daily walks to the post office.
For Amanda Kinney, the resulting deluge of cards and letters has been overwhelming, a viral show of support from around the world for her 19-year-old son, Carson Swazey.
"So yesterday, we were going for a walk and somebody stopped us and said, 'Excuse me. Excuse me. Is that Carson?'" Kinney told the Calgary Eyeopener.
"Oh, I sent him a card yesterday.' And it's like, thank you.… How wonderful is that?"
Kinney said she's not sure Carson fully understands the magnitude of the response, which has come from around the globe.
"He's just happy to get mail and presents. I mean, who doesn't like to get presents, right?"
Cards, presents, calendars, children's colouring pages and letters have been arriving in the family's post office box in Coaldale, Alta., every day since Kinney posted her plea on Facebook.
"It all kind of started really when COVID started," Kinney said. "Like a lot of us, Carson put on some weight. His happened to be quite a significant amount. He wasn't able to do his usual activities. He was no longer going to school and he was no longer able to volunteer places. And I found it was a little bit of a challenge to find constructive activities for him to fill his day."
Carson had always enjoyed getting the family's mail, but the mailbox is just down the road. Kinney had the idea of opening a special post office box in town, so he could have a longer walk every day.
The daily walks helped Carson to drop about 75 pounds.
"He really started to enjoy it. He got some cards for his graduation in June and then his birthday in July, and then it kind of stopped," she said. "I could tell that he seemed kind of disappointed."
That's when Kinney put out the request to her 200-plus Facebook friends.
"I had a couple hundred friends on Facebook that I thought maybe if half a dozen people, a dozen people, sent him a card or a nice letter, you know, that will give him something to look forward to. And at the very last minute, I thought I'm going to write, 'Please feel free to share,'" she said. "And then it just, yeah, I guess people did share because it's kind of, yeah, it's gone viral."
Media outlets have picked up the story — The Washington Post, NBC, CTV, CBC and Global, to name a few — and the mail has increased day by day.
"Most of the support that has been shown so far towards Carson is local. So local meaning Alberta. He's gotten probably over 20 cards and letters and drawings and even gifts from people, but the feedback I've gotten are from all over the world … Australia, the Philippines, the States, Europe, everywhere," she said.
"And people saying, 'OK, we put something in the mail. You can be expecting something.' And families that have loved ones with people with autism saying, 'You know, maybe they can be pen pals.' And just people asking me questions and advice. And I don't know how great I am at giving advice for that, but it's just wonderful, the connection."
Kinney said she has always tried to post positive things on Instagram and Facebook.
"But there are struggles, right? There's unpredictive behavioural issues and sleep disturbances. And it's hard not to focus on the negative things involved in being a parent with an adult child with severe autism. But this helps. It recharges me," she said.
"I love this boy and I want the world to love him. I want them to see him and value him as a person. And this gives him an authentic connection with the community."
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.