Nov 4 2008

From the mail bag: Writing your sponsored friend

Blog reader Carol commented and asked:

My husband and I sponsor a 14 year old girl in Guatemala. We always wrack our brains trying to find things to send her but the rules are so restrictive (no money, certain size package under a pound, etc, etc). It seems silly to send jewelry, which we usually resort to, when they may desperately need blankets. We ask in our letters “what do you need” but we don’t get an answer. How can you help us?

We thought that most of our sponsors are probably interested in this answer, so here it is, from Sponsor Services representative, Claudia.

Your letters and photos are the best gifts you could send

I know it sounds too easy, but we hear from our project staff time and time again that letters are really what the sponsored children and aging want the most.

Many gifts sponsors send are confusing to the families and children

Itís fun to pick out gifts, but customs are very different in the countries where CFCA works. We have heard from project staff, such as Father Mathew Vettukallel in Bhagalpur, India, that the children may receive items from the sponsor that they have no idea what to do with. Even though stickers and other doodads are something we see in our everyday lives, these items are often unfamiliar to sponsored friends, so they spend time inspecting the envelope that the items arrived in to see the stamps and the handwriting of the sponsor instead.

Gifts that you send could be at risk for being stolen

Mail is at a constant threat of being tampered with, especially once it leaves the United States. Packages sent internationally attract attention from thieves not only in transit within the local post offices, but also while being delivered by project staff. Some staff members have put their lives on the line during robberies to save precious letters they were delivering to the subproject offices. Although it is not a pleasant thought, receiving something that even just gives the appearance of value could put your friend at risk of having the item stolen by force.

Gift items can be difficult for the project staff to handle

Postal services are different all over the world. Picking up packages from the post office can be quite a challenge for our project staff.

In Kenya, the staff has reported that sometimes it can take three to four hours to clear one parcel through customs. Imagine how much time would be spent at the post office if they had to pick up one package for every sponsored person in Kenya. There are more than 15,000 children and aging individuals sponsored there right now!

This season, try sending a special letter to your friend instead of a gift

It seems clichÈ, but truly, it is the thought that counts. When our staff visit sponsored friendsí homes, the first things they are shown by those sponsored are pictures and letters from their sponsors. When I visited the Dominican Republic on a mission awareness trip in 2007, I had the same experience. Many homes were adorned with pictures and letters sent by the sponsor.

Sending a letter has the best chance of arriving safely and is less draining on the limited project staff than packages. You donít have to worry about finding an item that will fit into the right sized package, or choosing a shirt that is the right size. You canít go wrong with a letter, even if you just say, ìIím praying for you and your family this Christmas!† With love, Your Sponsor.î (Or in Spanish: Les rezo para ti y tu familia esta Navidad. Con cariÒo, Su Padrino/a.) Read helpful writing tips.

You also always have the option of donating to the CFCA Christmas fund. The children enjoy the gifts and parties that are made possible by donations to this fund. One hundred percent of the donation goes to CFCA projects, which use this fund to provide gifts and a celebration for the entire community of sponsored members.

Thank you for all you do as a sponsor! Your support and encouragement is a great gift in your sponsored friend’s life!

56 thoughts on “From the mail bag: Writing your sponsored friend”

  1. Hi,
    My sponsored friend lives in Guatemala and he is Catholic. I was wondering if it would be okay to send him a plastic rosary? They are free at our church

    Thanks so much,

    1. Hello Jen! That’s a great question. Sending a plastic rosary should be fine. It would fit easily into a normal envelope and I’m sure your friend would enjoy getting it.

      God bless,
      Jordan Kimbrell, Unbound writer/editor

  2. Recently I received a Colombian 50 peso coin. I was collecting for Autism Speaks. I think it passed for a US quarter.
    I have a sponsored child in Cartegena, Columbia.
    I know we don’t usually send checks or money directly, but I wondered if it would be all right in this instance. I think the amount is negligible= about 2-3 cents US, and I could tell my friend about my experience.

    1. Anna,

      We ask our sponsors not to send any kind of money to their sponsored friends through the mail. Doing so, even in small amounts, increases the risk that the letter be stolen and never reach your sponsored friend.

      However, we would still encourage you to send the story along to your sponsored child.

      Thank you,
      Ashley from Sponsor Services

  3. I’m a new sponsor of a 12 year old girl in Costa Rica. Sent my first letter as soon as I received my mailing labels. Just wondering how Costa Rica rates in the postal theft scheme? I assume some areas are better/worse than others. I was planning on sending her a small piece of jewelry the next time I write (worth about $4 US). Good idea? Bad idea?

    1. Hi Ann,

      Unfortunately, sending items in the mail can be costly, and there is always the risk of items getting lost or stolen in the mail. During 2010 we were notified by several projects that many of the packages sent by the sponsors were being ripped open and stolen at the postal office in their country. This happens quite often in other counties; many of the postal workers do not have the same standard of ethics as the United States Postal Service.

      Another problem with sending packages is the custom fees that are attached. These custom fees are very high, and we would rather the money that we receive be used for the benefit purposes for which it was intended. If a package incurs a fee, the project will not pick up these items.

      We might suggest a small paper bookmark, stickers or photos. These items would be small enough to fit in an envelope with a letter.

      ~Sponsor Services

  4. We are thinking of sponsoring a child from Central America. I was a Spanish teacher and I can speak the language fluently. Could I translate my son’s letters to Spanish?

    1. Sponsors who are able to write their letters in Spanish are welcome to do so. We can also change a setting on your sponsorship account to notify our staff that letters from your new friend do not need to be translated. Please let us know when you sign up for sponsorship if incoming translations are also not necessary. We look forward to welcoming you as a new sponsor!

      Sponsor Services

  5. I am a brand new sponsor of a child in El Salvador. I only signed up a few days ago, so I have obviously not received a letter from him or any additional materials from CFCA yet.

    In the child’s profile, it indicates that his favorite subject in school is drawing. Are a small packet of colored pencils and a small pad of plain drawing paper a reasonable gift to send? Bundled together, they certainly meet the size requirements stated by CFCA. However, although they are incredibly inexpensive by USA standards, I would not want to send a gift that might be taken away from him, might make other kids jealous, or have any other negative impact I may not be aware of due to cultural differences. I was thinking of writing (printing) my first letter to him on the first sheet of the pad, and then he would have both my original letter and the rest of the pad to use. Would that be acceptable for both his situation and CFCA guidelines?

    1. Hi Brian,

      Good questions! Your idea of sending colored pencils and a small drawing pad to your sponsored child is very appropriate and a great way to encourage his talents. Simple items such as art or school supplies are still common enough in many of the areas where we work that sending them as gifts does not pose a significant risk to your child. You are also welcome to write your first letter on the first sheet of the pad or to include a separate letter. Either way, it is a good idea to just ask your friend to let you know if he received the items, and keep in mind that it might take a couple letters for him to mention your mail.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful questions! Feel free to contact Sponsor Services with any other questions about your sponsorship.


      Sponsor Services

  6. Another question: Since we’re able to travel often around the United States, is it appropriate (or ostentatious?) to send postcards from some of the places we visit?
    Ruth (again)

    1. I think its cool that you can send postcards I have never written A postcard in my life and if I have I don’t remember it


  7. I didn’t read all of what had been written and asked by others, so maybe my question has already been answered. We have a child in the Philippines and another in India whom we sponsor. We are always in a quandary as well as to what sorts of gifts can be given and received. Neither of the children has indicated having received any of the gifts we have sent, so we’re wondering if the gifts become “generic-given-at- Christmas-gifts,” or perhaps they actually never made it there.
    Are packets of vegetable seeds or flower seeds useful? Or is there a risk of spreading botanical diseases?
    Thank you!

    1. Dear Ruth,

      Thanks for your questions. Foreign mail systems can be problematic when trying to correspond with your sponsored friends. Our projects in the Philippines and in India have commented that gift items or larger envelopes often get tampered with or stolen. In some cases, sponsored friends find the stamps or handwriting on the envelope more fascinating than the actual little goodies that a sponsor has sent!

      We recommend keeping mail as simple as possible: letters, greeting cards, photos (sponsored friends love these!). Postcards from your travels are also great. Some countries have regulations about what can and cannot be sent in and out through the mail, so it is always good to check with the U.S. Post Office before sending plant seeds or similar items.

      If you want to send stickers, colored pencils or related items, please make sure that your friend’s name and identification number appear on or attached to each item. Since all the mail for each project is routed through the central office, this will help the project staff sort and deliver the mail to your sponsored friend’s smaller community. It can also be helpful to ask your friend to write you back or mention your mail so you will know it arrived safely.

      Thanks so much for writing to your sponsored friends! Please call Sponsor Services at 1-800-875-6564 or email us at with any additional questions you might have.

      Sponsor Services

  8. Thanks for your reply, I understand and appreciate your privacy policy. Somewhere in your litarature I read that post cards might be a welcome way to communicate. Is there a procedure to follow in sending a post Card ?

    Thanks again for your quick responses. Thanks also for your patience. Obviously, I’m a novice at this and am just looking to establish an efficient, effective, and meaningful communication with the child we sponsor. I know his world is totally different than ours and we would like to know more about his and tell him about us.

    Ed & Ruby

    1. Ed and Ruby,

      We are so happy that you want to establish a relationship with your friend! Postcards are a great way to send a short note. A postcard message would be sent the same way as a letter. You should have received pre-printed labels from us for addressing your letters.

      One label has the address of the project that serves your friend. Use that label on the address section of the postcard.

      Then, put the label that has your friend’s name on it on the top left corner — or somewhere away from the address label so the postal service does not get confused.

      Be sure to use CFCA’s address (see below) as the return address to ensure your privacy. There is usually enough space by the stamp for a return address.

      1 Elmwood Ave
      Kansas City, KS 66103

      If you do not have pre-printed labels, please contact Sponsor Services, and we will be happy to send you some. Also, check out this link for some other writing tips:

      We hope that you will feel free to call or e-mail Sponsor Services with any further questions. You may reach us toll free at (800) 875-6564 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central time, or send an e-mail to


      Sponsor Services

  9. I have read all the questions and cfca’s responses. Most were informative or helpful. But, if it understandably takes 8 weeks there and 8 weeks return, then the soonest we could know if our sponsee received our letter or gift would be four months. Is there some confirmation process to know the child received our package or letter. If these items are highly subject to theft or no delivery confirmation, we may never know if our sponsored child received the gift. Any comment?


    Ed and Ruby

    1. Ed and Ruby,

      We understand your concern. At this time, we do not have a confirmation process in place. Because of the high volume of mail received in the project offices, it would be very difficult to notify each sponsor when their letter or package arrives at the project. We do ask that our project teams encourage the sponsored individuals to mention items they receive in their letters to their sponsors. Sponsors are also welcome to include a note with their gift asking their friend to write back and let them know if the gift was received.

      Thanks for your questions.

      Sponsor Services

      1. Thanks, for your response, that was kind of what I thought. One idea might be to include a self addresed stamped return post card to acknowledge it was received at the point CFCA opens and translates the letters or receives the gifts. Just a thought.

        Thanks Again

        1. Ed and Ruby,

          Thank you for your understanding, and we appreciate your suggestion. However, CFCA works very hard to protect the privacy of our sponsors. It is important that all sponsors remember our privacy policy warns against sharing any personal contact information, including your return address.

          Sponsor Services

    1. Dear Billie,

      Thank you for your question. As soon as your initial sponsorship contribution is processed, we will mail you pre-printed mailing labels and instructions on how to write to your sponsored child. If you have questions after receiving this information, please don’t hesitate to contact Sponsor Services at 800.875.6564 or 913.384.6500 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST or e-mail us at

      We appreciate your support!

      Sponsor Services

  10. Harriet,

    Thanks again for your comments and questions. Here is an example of the journey a letter takes:

    1. Mariaís sponsor writes a letter to her and mails it from her home in the U.S.
    2. Mariaís sponsor sends the letter via airmail so it gets to Central America in an estimated five to seven postal business days instead of two to four weeks by ground.
    3. The letter arrives at the CFCA project office in Guatemala.
    4. CFCA workers have many letters to translate, so Mariaís letter is translated in about seven days and mailed to the smaller office serving Maria.
    5. Maria lives in a remote village with no mail delivery. Her letter arrives at the nearest post office about 10 days later.
    6. Mariaís subproject coordinator picks up the letter four days later on a weekly visit to the post office.
    7. Maria receives the letter about six to eight weeks after it left the U.S. via airmail.
    8. When Maria responds to her sponsor, the journey begins again.

    If your sponsored friend does not write or read English, he/she will always receive your original letter and a translated copy. The same is true for a sponsor when their sponsored friend writes.

    A family member or staff member can write on behalf of sponsored friends who may not be able to write on their own and ask that the author identify him/herself and why the sponsored friend is not writing at the time.

    Please feel free to contact Sponsor Services at or at (800) 875 6564 with any other questions.

    Sponsor Services

  11. I have experienced the same problem that Maryann has. My questions are not answered either. What is the mail process once it is received? If the sponsored child does not understand English is the letter rewritten or read to the child? Is the return letter the child’s words or someone else’s?

    1. Harriet,

      Thanks for your question. Some children do learn English at school and will write their letters in English to practice. If a child does not learn or write in English, a sponsor will always receive their friend’s original letter and a translated copy. A family member or project staff write on behalf of sponsored members who are unable to write their own letters.

      If we can be of further assistance, please contact us toll free at (800) 875-6564 Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. CST, or e-mail us at

      Have a blessed holiday!

      Sponsor Services

  12. Would it be possible for you to print the sample letter forms in black and white? I am finding it difficult to copy, even in color. It comes out very light- and it will not print in black ink at all.
    I assume you want all letters written on this form for translation purposes.
    Thank you in advance for your response.

    1. Maureen,

      Thank you for your comment. We created a black and white version to ease your printing problems: I hope this helps.

      This form is not required when writing your friend. We have always had many questions from sponsors asking how to get started and what to write about. So we created this form as a way to help sponsors by offering writing topics and a friendly format. If you would like to use it every time, that is certainly fine, but it would be just as acceptable to use your own stationery or just plain paper.

      I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.


  13. I don’t know how much the hurricanes have affected my sponsored child’s family. I know she goes to school in Bidou, Haiti. However, I do not know which large city she lives near. So that I can at least watch the news.

    I have been dealing with the same issues regarding wanting to send a small gift, plus thinking I should add something for her younger sister. I did not realize the theft issues. How bad is the problem in Haiti?

    1. Dear Ms. Powell,

      Warm greetings during this Advent Season.

      Thank you for your continued support and interest in your sponsored friends. Our project in Haiti is located in the northeastern part of the country in and around Ferrier. The hurricanes this season hit the hardest in the south. So, your sponsored friend was spared the worst of the storms. The largest cities by your friend would be Ferrier and Cap-Haiten. You should be able to find both of these cities on the map, near the border with the Dominican Republic.

      Besides theft, another issue with sending gifts to Haiti is the mail service itself. Although you must pay for postage, each package delivered to the projects requires an additional fee at the project site when delivered. There is no way to pay this cost up front. There is no additional charge for letters, but there is for packages. This is why we ask sponsors who wish to show additional support and encouragement to consider a contribution to the Christmas or birthday funds.

      I hope this answers your questions. Again, thank you for your continued love and support of your sponsored friend.

      International Programs

  14. Julie,

    Amounts totaling more than your standard contribution should be designated to a specific fund, otherwise the extra will be applied to your future sponsorship balance.

    If you wish to send something extra in honor of Christmas or a birthday but do not wish to contribute to the funds designated for this purpose, it would be best to contact Sponsor Services directly to learn about your options for a special contribution to your friend.

    Thank your for your question and your continued caring and support for your friend.

    Sponsor Services

  15. For special days, such as Christmas or birthday, I have thought about sending extra money along with my monthly contribution. Would this extra amount go directly to the child? Or is there another way to send extra money? Thank you.

  16. Lucinda,

    We respectfully ask all sponsors to avoid using online translation services or software. Just as you said, common phrases and idioms could be translated literally and cause confusion. If a sponsor does not need letters translated, it can help CFCA save on translation costs, but does not significantly decrease the time it takes for a sponsored friend to receive mail.

    If you have other questions about correspondence between you and your sponsored friend, please feel free to e-mail Sponsor Services at or call (800) 875-6564.

    Thanks for your question.

    Sponsor Services

  17. Susan M. –

    For most projects, except Liberia and Haiti, your mail will be sent to the project office in the country where your friend lives. You can use the pre-printed labels that we send (these are printed on a page that is bright pink at the top) or contact Sponsor Services and we will e-mail the address to you so you can write the information on your letter or small package.

    For privacy reasons, mail will not go directly to your sponsored friendís home. The project staff will give the mail to your friend once the items are received and translated, if needed. Please do not wrap the contents as they will need to be checked before they are given to your friend. You could bundle small items in a plastic zipper bag, if you wish.

    Thank you for your questions.

    Claudia Staply
    Sponsor Services

  18. I have a small package (Colored pencils, sketch pad and pencil sharpener) ready to send to our child but I cannot find in any of your documents nor on your site, how to address it, where to send it. Does it go to your offices in Kansas City? Should I address the actual package to the home address of our child, then wrap it and address of it to the local office in his country and then wrap it again to send to Kansas City? Please give me the details of how this is done. Thank you

  19. How does the program feel about the automatic translation services available on the web? Is that timesaving? I imagine one would have to be very careful about idioms, semantics, etc.

  20. Susan I.-

    Great questions! All mail to your friend needs to be sent regular “First Class International” (this used to be called international airmail). Sending items with priority delivery or other special services can keep the mail from reaching your friend.

    Mail sent with special services attracts more attention for tampering, plus it can be harder for the staff to pick up as it may require signatures for delivery or waiting in long lines. Finally, as you said, it really does not help the item get to your friend any faster. The majority of your letter/gift’s journey is spent traveling long distances from the project to the subproject office and then on to your friend.

    For the second part of your question, I understand your concern, but please do not think that your friend would ever be disappointed. It means so much for the individuals being sponsored to have someone writing to them, praying for them, caring for them – someone who, prior to sponsorship, was a perfect stranger. To them, being sponsored is a joy.

    Having this connection with their sponsor is so important, I truly believe that they are not going to be disappointed if your gifts change over time.

    Claudia Stapley
    Sponsor Services

  21. I always try to remember my sponsored child at Christmas and his birthday, but unfortunately, I sometimes underestimate the time it takes to get there, be picked up and translated, and get to him. ( I guess I ‘m stuck on US thinking, that it can get there by tomorrow if you need to!) Do you know whether it helps much to send it faster through USPS, or does it usually get held up on the other end (in this case, Bolivia)?

    Also, in regards to sending small gifts–I have tried many times to come up with unique small items to send, but I am running out of ideas, especially since my child is now 15. For his birthday last April, I decided to contribute extra to the community project fund and did it in his honor; I also had a Mass said for his intention. I tried to explain this in his birthday letter, but as some other sponsors have said in their postings, I hope this doesn’t confuse or disappoint the child.

  22. Mark and Nancy –

    Thanks for your question.

    You are correct: typed letters are the easiest to translate, but sending a handwritten letter is OK, too. We do recommend printing if you write the letter by hand. Doing this also helps the translators.

    Perhaps you could trade off by typing some of your letters and hand-write the others.

    Regardless, your friend will be happy to hear from you.

    Claudia Stapley
    Sponsor Services

  23. Is it best to type letters or hand-write them? Hand-written notes are probably more heart-felt for our sponsored child but typed letters have less chance of being misinterpreted due to my occasional sloppy handwriting.

  24. Mary Ann –

    Sponsors may observe that letters from their children tend to be “generic” in nature, and may not be fully responsive to questions asked in previous sponsor letters.

    Letter writing is a new experience for many of the people we work with. So our goal is to help sponsored members get comfortable with writing their required letters and that the quality will improve as the sponsorship relationship progresses.

    Although it does not seem to be the case in your specific instance, It is also important to keep in mind that since mail takes about eight weeks to go one way, correspondence can often cross in the mail. During the holdiay season, a letter can take up to 12 weeks to arrive at its destination.

    We always encourage sponsors to contact Sponsor Services directly by phone at (800) 875-6564 or e-mail at with any questions or concerns about their sponsored friend’s correspondence.

    Thank you for sharing your concern with us.

    – Ashley
    Sponsor Services

  25. I regularly send small gifts and letters to my sponsored child. She is 14 and writes to me as well.

    However, she never answers the questions that I ask or mentions the gifts that I send, even when I ask her about them.

    It is almost like she doesn’t get the gifts or letters from me. And, it is not a timing problem. And she writes very well so I know that she is capable.

    I hope that she is actually receiving the items and letters and cards from me.

  26. Barbara T. –

    It is fine to include a little something extra for Vivian’s siblings. Just enclose a note that you have included these items to be shared, and make sure that what you send still fits within CFCA’s mailing guidelines.

    Your sponsored child will always benefit on your behalf from the Christmas fund, and many projects hold a holiday celebration for the sponsored members and their families.

    Thank you for everything that you do, and have a blessed holiday season!

    – Ashley

  27. Is it proper to send something small for Vivian’s 2 baby sisters for Christmas? I will also donate to the Christmas Fund….does this mean that my sponsored child will be included in any party, etc?
    Thank you.

  28. Barbara M. –

    We do understand that some sponsors enjoy and feel strongly about sending small items to their sponsored friends, beyond a letter and photo. You are still welcome to send small, flat items (colored pencils, paper, or similar art/school supplies are good ideas) that will fit in a 9-by-12-inch or smaller envelope, weighs less than a pound and is less than one inch thick.

    If we can be of further assistance, please contact us toll-free at (800) 875-6564 Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. CST. Thank you for your care and support of the children and aging we serve.

  29. I have three sponsored children and they LOVE pop-up or musical cards. A photo, though, is important. When I met my little girl, she was holding a photo of me that looked as if she carried it everywhere. I also gave my little girl a photo of me in a Syracuse, NY, snowstorm, and when I went to Guatemala people on the street stopped me to ask about the snow. I always send a little something (flat) with the card and photo — this year a hologram bookmark and a Christmas ornament. My kids always comment on what they got and how they enjoyed it.

  30. While I’m sure she will enjoy the letter and photo, she already receives these, so suddenly getting no gift will be a noticeable loss. I guess I will just include a note that CFCA prefers we not send packages to explain the change. I hate to think how disappointed she will be.

  31. The donation process is incredibly easy! Thank for you making our family’s gifts for our sponsored child so accessible and quick!

  32. Barbara M. –

    Thank you for your question and concern for Jeimi’s feelings. We hear from our project staff over and over again that sponsored friends request letters and photos more than anything else from their sponsor. It helps them to know their sponsor in a different way beyond understanding the financial assistance provided.

    Sometimes there are no words to describe the experience of receiving a letter and photo from their sponsor. They treasure the letters and photos from their sponsor and will often place them in special locations within the home. Jeimi will be very excited to receive these gifts from you.

  33. I very much wanted to send something to my 13yo in Bolivia- so I sent- gel pens,a small calculator, bead bracelet ,small notebook, quality paper,2 combs,hair bands- it fit into an8 by11 envelope , less than a pound-(had to take some out at Post Office) but was more than 1 inch thick- similar packages sent in the past have gotten there- but not as thick I don’t think
    I so very much want to do more –

  34. I have made a custom of sending small gifts to my sponsored child at Christmas, and I know she receives them as she always lists them in thank you letters. How will she feel if I suddenly only send a photo and a letter or card, per your instructions? I’m afraid she will be disappointed and won’t understand the change! And she won’t know if I donate to a general Christmas fund.

    My child is Jeimi.

    Please answer soon–Christmas is coming!

  35. Jean –

    Thanks for your question. There are actually three ways you can donate to the CFCA Christmas Fund.

    You may make a contribution by visiting and clicking “Donate to the birthday or Christmas fund.”

    You can call Sponsor Services at (800)875-6564 or (913)384-6500 and make a donation over the phone.

    Or, you can simply send a check made out to CFCA (please write “Christmas Fund” on the memo section) to:

    Christian Foundation for Children and Aging
    PO Box 805105
    Kansas City, MO 64180-5105

    We hope this helps. Thank you for your support!

  36. This is exactly the question I was going to ask since we too sponsor a 14 year old girl in Guatemala. Thank you for posting this blog!!


  37. I would like to give a donation to the CFCA Christmas fund, but I am not sure of the address as to where to send it. Could you please let me know an e-mail would be fine with the address.

    Thank you

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