Help me plan ahead for anonymous holiday gifts
November 3, 2011 8:15 AM   Subscribe

I know I'm a chronically early planner, but bear with me. I have two questions about the upcoming holidays: 1) Organizations similar to this one that sends shoe boxes of toys to needy children. 2) Random acts of anonymous kindess but AT WORK. More details inside:

More details:

1) Yesterday we were at a fast food restaurant and they have signs up for the organization that I linked to above. They're accepting donations of boxes (in our region) on Monday, and then it looks like I can donate a box via a local church the week of the 14th. I'm afraid that's too fast for me to pull something together - so do you know of other organizations that a) do something similar (packing boxes for kids in need) and b) are potentially in the States (thus avoiding international shipping and with a later deadline)? I am open to other such organizations that help kids out during the holidays as well. *Note that we already do gifts via Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army.

2) I have already read two previous threads on random acts of kindness. Morale where I work isn't always the greatest, so I'd like do do little acts of anonymous (but affordable) kindnesses to people I think may need it through the month of December. I've looked online as well, and most of the RAoK blog posts lean towards "doing kindess to teach my children" not "I work in a professional environment." Anonymous is key. I have access to a mailroom, and open cubes. The more affordable the better, because then I can do more (i.e. 10 $5 Starbucks cards only hits 10 people, but a box of candy canes & a note reach more). Suggestions?
posted by librarianamy to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My sister in-common-law makes a giant cookie basket for her coworkers every year, and goes to work early to set it up, then takes herself out for coffee. She then tries to arrive a little bit late, so that no one suspects it's her doing it. She works in a smallish company (25ish people), and it's relatively horizontal, so no one assumes it's just a hing from the higher-ups. She usually makes about 12 different types of cookies.

I've always thought that was awesome.
posted by emilycardigan at 8:26 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would focus on the women in the group. Women are more likely to 'pay it forward' in a public way than men. Men do it too, but quieter. Pick and choose who you think will most likely feel so loved by your act that they will want to continue the happy feeling by doing something similar. Then, you could affect a few who will affect a few more and things could ripple out nicely. Single, working moms tend to be the least appreciated. There sometimes isn't anyone to get them anything for Christmas and all their money goes to buying for their children. I would focus on them first.

As for number one, look in your area for the lowest ranking elementary school and contact them. Let them know that you want to help in some way and ask if they will get you a wish list from one of their needier students.
posted by myselfasme at 8:27 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think doing something for your whole office is better than singling out people you think need the encouragement. Random anonymous cards or notes could be a bit strange. Muffin day for everyone, cookie baskets, etc.. I think morale is improved by a communal surprise--everyone likes a muffin in the morning, but a candy cane might not really hit the spot.

You can always write individual notes or greeting cards to those who've really helped you or made a big effort during the year, but I'd sign them.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:37 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not sure if I'd do the random thing in the mailbox. I read somewhere (and it makes sense to me) that people respond to random acts of kindness with suspicion--not because of the kindness but because of the randomness. I think I'd feel that way about the candy cane in the mailbox.

I'd do something in a communal space--along the lines of baked muffins, baked granola bars, yummy breads (pumpkin, banana, cheesebread), cinnamon buns. Fresh baked anything. When I was working, people are always scrambling for a little something to eat that wasn't too junky. One woman was a fabulous cook and would bring a big casserole dish of something like chicken biryani and a huge dispenser-like thermos of chai tea. That was awesome. (We were a small office) Even a huge thermos of something hot and delicious would be great. If your office has bad coffee, some really good coffee. I love chai tea. Or mexican hot chocolate.
posted by biscuits at 9:07 AM on November 3, 2011

I like the random kindness at work idea. How about getting an Advent calendar and putting it on a random person's desk with a note (a little poem with workplace references, maybe?) that says in a clever way "open today's door and then leave this on a random desk for tomorrow." That way it gets paid forward and it becomes a shared thing.

Another idea is individually wrapped candies, like these from Ikea. Very inexpensive, individually wrapped so anyone skeeved out by anonymity would still be ok w/them, and quite tasty (the toffee ones, anyway).
posted by headnsouth at 11:00 AM on November 3, 2011

For the former, I'd ask if you have a shelter in your neighbourhood? We have a few, of course, and many of their students stream into our school. A few years ago, one of our local places sent out a letter describing their Christmas gift program:

"We ask the children to write a letter to Santa of what their Holiday gift wishes are; their mothers add to it the things that they need! These lists are passed on to me, where I, in turn, pass them on to willing participants.

We ask those who participate to be an Anonymous Santa. You will be given a child's wish list, their gender, and age and clothing sizes.

Purchase a minimum of 3 non-violent gifts, and deliver them back to me, unwrapped. At this point, gifts are wrapped and given to the mothers who give their children the gifts. It's as simple as that.

What sets this holiday drive apart from the others is that the children get exactly what they asked for.

Their brand new winter coats fit them. The toys are child specific. Highlights from last year are: a donated computer to a family of 3 boys who live with their grandmother. A new 61 key keyboard for a 14 year old girl, who found a teacher to give her free piano lessons. There were $13,000 worth of brand new toys and clothes for these women and children last year…and I know this year will be just as successful."

But what I like best about this anonymous act of charity?

It makes somebody's parents the hero. Not me. Not a business who benefits from the promotion or tax deductions. It's also not a get-out-of-guilt free card - it puts a name, age and mind to your charity that will stay with you throughout the year. It changed me. I have seen children from our shelter carrying the lunchbags I donated anonymously, because I know that the identical brown bag lunches label them as shelter kids, and rip easily and don't let kids save snacks for later, and that feels good - but running into a little girl with the same name as one of my recipeints at the pool the next summer helped me feel the responsibility of choosing well, not just choosing anything. And as part of it all, as I learned from the organizer, people in need, need this: Charity that doesn't make them feel poor. As the organizer explained, for Christmas, getting a box with the same winter hat and gloves that hundreds of other kids are getting is one way of branding them the recipients of charity. They need, and should have,what they want and what they would choose to buy if they had the money to do it.

So, we usually do the one you linked to, mostly because it's fun to see what we can fit in a shoebox (and really, we can do it in one trip, if we hit the right department store or mini-mall) - the drop-off is the week of the 14th-21st, in various locations, which might give you an extra day or so. Sometimes Greyhound will take the packages right at their terminal too, if you miss the one at the church.

I did a quick poke around and see that this HSCC Holiday Toy Program has "Angel Trees", which is what they're called here when you fulfill a specific wish or adopt a family. If you can find one or have one in your workplace, it's my favourite way to help.

As for the RAoK, I loved this article about the art of giving compliments. Today a mom arrived at school to see her son having a time out on the bench at the playground for fighting. She started to give him what-for, and I stopped her to say, "Hey, it's okay - he's having his time to think about it now, and once he's off the bench and apologizes properly, it's over and done. He's always good about that. You know, I really like him - he's so smiley, and he has so much kid energy, and he's always ready to see if he can get away with a joke. It's just that today, things got out of hand for him, that's all." He smiled like crazy after hearing that, she was tremendously relieved and gave me a squeeze. Making a point to give out the best compliments you can is still pretty random and kind.
posted by peagood at 11:12 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

In many workplaces, the fridge is a horrid mess, and the cupboard is full of mis-matched plastic containers and weird food no one wanted to eat. A genuine act of kindness is to clean it.

Office - bring in some really good coffee, and maybe some baked goods. Also milk, cream, and several types of sweetener. Go through the office delivering coffee.

People love sweets, but a basket of fresh apples and oranges smells delicious and is a healthy treat.

Get the proper supplies(cleaner and old, soft undershirts), and clean everyone's monitors. use alcohol wipes to clean keyboards.

Do you have a friend with a baby or little kids? Offer to do some holiday shopping.

The guy who closes up the parking garage (I leave late) has a cold job in the winter, waiting for people to leave so he can lock up and go home. I thought about him the other night, and I'm pretty sure he needs a pie. Are there unsung heroes at work, or in your life? The nice guy at the gas station, the helpful checker at the grocery? A thank you card with a small gift card would make their day.
posted by theora55 at 4:10 PM on November 3, 2011

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