How a lifelong love of stamp collecting became a tool to help save lives
This article by APS member Douglas Friedman is the third in a three-part series adapted from his column "My Hobby Became a Life Saver!" In this final chapter (and in the lead up to Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month in November), Friedman reveals how he turned his mostly private hobby into a public campaign to help save lives.
For the first six decades of my life, my philatelic love story was pretty much known only by family and close friends. But in 2019, as a fundraiser for The Alzheimer’s Association’s program “The Longest Day” to support research for a cure, I shared it with the world by announcing online that any donors to my fundraiser would receive something from my collection – not necessarily stamps, but beautifully designed souvenir envelopes and special items worthy of framing. I still have many of these special items beyond what is in my albums: booklets, postcards, and souvenir sheets on such varied subjects as submarines, British royalty, Disney princesses, and US presidents. When a donor tells me what their hobbies and interests are, I almost always have something in that area to send them.
A selection of some of the philatelic material Friedman has given away to donors, with an FDC that was sent to his Grandpa Joe in the center.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that robs the afflicted of memory and eventually the ability to do routine daily tasks. The Alzheimer’s Association is the largest non-governmental funder of research to combat Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Having lost my parents and other relatives to this insidious disease, I’ve been active in sharing their stories and doing what I can to help the cause.
Friedman at the 2023 Walk to End Alzheimer's in San Diego earlier this year.
After posting my initial fundraiser on Facebook and Instagram with a link to my campaign page, email after email appeared in my inbox telling me another donation to the Alzheimer’s Association had been made. With each one, I had the opportunity to write or call the donor to determine what type of item from my collection they’d enjoy most. My insurance agent’s son was a big fan of Marvel comics, so I sent him some of the postal cards the US issued featuring a number of characters from the Marvel Universe. Old schoolfriends were enamored with Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother; there was no shortage of items I’d been saving from Royal Mail that I sent them. A theatre-loving friend received the Royal Mail issue featuring Gilbert & Sullivan operettas.
A photo of the author (and his pandemic-era haircut) posted to social media to promote his fundraiser.
I managed to raise $2000 that year, and was happy to have made such a positive impact in the battle against Alzheimer’s. In 2020 I did it again, and with the success of that first year behind me, I was able to generate some publicity for my annual campaign. Some 35 years after first publishing my article about computerizing my stamp collection, The American Philatelist once again published something I’d written, a letter to the editor, which generated more donations and enabled me to share more of the cool items from my collection with friends.
In 2021, the Tierra Times, a free newspaper in my local San Diego community, published an article I wrote about my passion for stamp collecting and the fundraiser. That one article resulted in an incredibly generous donation from a reader.
From my journal, August 4, 2021:
A small article about my fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association’s “The Longest Day” campaign, which I placed in my neighborhood’s Tierra Times, the bimonthly newspaper, was read by a man living five minutes from me who was moved by my story about being a stamp collector and thanking all my donors with items from my collection. He had inherited an uncle’s collection which he wanted to give me, so I arranged to drive over this afternoon. There were a number of items though not much of great value. However, sticking out of one of the envelopes was a surprise, a check for my fundraiser! I couldn’t believe it when I saw it…two thousand dollars! That’s as much as I’d hoped to raise over the course of a year! I was floored. This nice, generous man told me to contact him next year for another!
True to his word, this wonderful gentleman came through again in 2022, and 2023 as well. As of this writing he has donated $14,000 to the Alzheimer’s Association, which wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t read this little article in a newspaper read by fewer than 500 people.
The Tierra Times article that helped a generous donor get in touch with Friedman in 2021.
Now into my retirement years, I’m focusing not on building my collection but on using it to generate interest in stamp collecting among young people. Every year I fill a box or two with philatelic items and send them to the American Philatelic Society which they’ll be able to use to promote the hobby. I’ve also given boxes of stamps to the local Boys & Girls Clubs that have stamp collecting groups.
And now, as my friends and acquaintances become aware of my hobby and fundraiser for Alzheimer’s research, I am often asked to take their collections and distribute them as well. It’s rather enjoyable, and sometimes I find a rare gem in their shoeboxes full of stamps that has either good value or some historical significance (such as a US mini-souvenir sheet on polar exploration autographed by Admiral Richard Byrd).
As I continue to support the Alzheimer's Association, I will continue my promise to give a special item from my collection to any donors as a thank you. I hope that if this series has inspired you, you might also consider a donation to this important cause.
Thank you to Douglas for sharing his story with us. If you'd like to read more of his writing, you can find the previous articles in this series here and here, or subscribe to his Substack. And if you'd like to take him up on his generous offer, you can donate to his Alzheimer's Association fundraiser here.