What’s better than a surprise package delivered right to your doorstep? How about one filled with an assortment of regional goodies, homemade treats and other fun snack items from a fellow epicure? Meet Lindsay Livingston of Columbus, Ohio—a registered dietician who agrees, and thus launched Foodie Penpals in September of 2011. Her free online service randomly matches participating food enthusiasts who then assemble and send one another a package filled with delicious edibles that total less than $15, along with a written note explaining the contents. “I was thinking, Wouldn’t it be cool if you could get food in the mail?” says Livingston, who runs the program through her diet and nutrition blog, The Lean Green Bean. “Then, I talked about it with my blogging friend, and the first months, we did an experiment with twenty or thirty of us and then it just grew from there.”
Since the launch, Foodie Penpals has grown to include up to 1,000 participants at a time during some months—hailing from all over the US and even Canada (though Canadians are matched exclusively with each other because of customs issues). Livingston notes that participants are responsible for deciding how to ship their items, and must follow all laws regarding food shipment in their state in order to participate. And even though people receive a different pen pal for each month they choose to participate, Livingston says a few of the registrants have become real-life friends as a result of the program.
Fellow blogger Nicole Woon says she has enjoyed the experiences she’s had with her three different matchups. “I made it a point to specifically request local goodies from the pen pals I was paired with and was always pleasantly surprised by the treats I received—from an Arkansas barbecue joint’s house seasoning to Kentucky bourbon chocolates,” says Woon. “It’s fun to receive surprise boxes in the mail, but the true delight for me came at the beginning of each month when I was able to put together a package specially tailored to my pen pal’s taste buds.”
For Livingston, memorable gifts from her own pen pals have included a homemade ginger-peach granola and even a CD of songs to listen to while cooking. “I thought that was pretty cool,” she says. But what's even cooler, according to Livingston, is knowing that more packages filled with foodie-friendly fare will keep coming in the mail. —Nicole Lessin
For more, visit theleangreenbean.com/foodie-penpals