Seeking thank you gift for a stranger who did me a great kindness
March 20, 2014 2:18 PM   Subscribe

What's a good thank you gift for a total stranger who did me a great kindness? He returned my lost cell phone, car keys, credit cards, wedding ring and cash - more than $1,000 in misplaced possessions - and asked for nothing in return. All I know about him: His name and mailing address from the envelope, and the fact that he lives somewhere so rural that a Starbucks card will carry no value.

I dropped my possessions in a river, and they washed up two weeks later and more than 80 miles downstream, a short distance from the Pacific Ocean. I thought I'd never see them again. I plan to send a thank you card to the kind man who mailed everything back to me, but my gratitude - infused by a sense of the miraculous - goes beyond words. I would like to include a gift, probably worth $20 or so, but I would spend $50 or more if I had an inspiring idea.

His address is at least an hour from the nearest commercial center, in an area where even Internet access is limited. A gift card won't work. This needs to be something tangible.
posted by croutonsupafreak to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Omaha steaks or Harry and David pears? Chocolate might melt.
posted by carmicha at 2:20 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd just give him a hundred-dollar bill. Or you could find something that would be a potential heirloom--a nice high-end pocket knife, flashlight, or multi-tool.
posted by Slinga at 2:23 PM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

wallmart cards could work. Any local treats or produce that might survive shipping? Judging by the rural-ish people I lived briefly near, a thank you card is probably plenty. But food was always good, too. I personally have mixed feelings on the tackiness of cash, but cash is cash.
posted by Jacen at 2:24 PM on March 20, 2014

Seconding the pocket knife or multi-tool. Something useful, that he can look at every day as a memento of a good deed.

Also add cookies.

Cash actually detracts from the self-worth feeling that a good deed does - makes it feel transactional. I would definitely not send cash or any kind of gift card.
posted by corb at 2:25 PM on March 20, 2014 [35 favorites]

Amazon sells nice food gifts at a variety of price points. Under $30 you can get something like this… festive gift, hopefully he hasn't got diabetes.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:26 PM on March 20, 2014

a high end flashlight is a nice idea. and maybe enclose a photo of you so he has a sense of who he helped?
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:27 PM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'd suggest the best reward would simply be a warm hand-written card relaying your thanks and sincere appreciation. A bottle of wine or a box of chocolates might be nice too, but the note is the most important thing, I think.
posted by bonehead at 2:27 PM on March 20, 2014 [20 favorites]

I'd concentrate on the expressive part - pictures and words that get across just how much it means to you that he made the effort he did.
posted by mdn at 2:28 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think that a really sincere and heartfelt thank you card or letter is the best thing here, especially as you know pretty much nothing about him and his personality and therefore run the risk of accidentally buying something he wouldn't like or use.
posted by badmoonrising at 2:32 PM on March 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

Take a picture of you looking happy and incredulous with your items scattered beside you and include it with a card.

I would send something that generically says 'thank you' like chocolate, wine or flowers, so as not to detract from his good deed.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:39 PM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

What would you want if the roles were reversed? A heartfelt acknowledgement in a card would go a long way.
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:43 PM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Echoing the comments above, a heartfelt letter or card is the most important thing. If you want to accompany that with candy, wine, or something like a pocket knife, that would be great.

Do not send cash or money in any form. Sending money as a thank you for a good deed is incredibly tacky.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:45 PM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would *usually* say that a thank you card, or better, a handwritten, heartfelt letter expressing your appreciation is likely plenty. However, given that this was over $1,000 worth of your stuff, I'm not sure I'd say that here. Problem is you know next to nothing about him (other than his kindheartedness).

I'd second the fruit box suggestion, or a nice plant (maybe not flowers). Omaha Steaks? You don't know if he's vegetarian, so I'd suggest you avoid it. (Given he is rural, I doubt it, but that could just be my own personal stereotypes talking.) Chocolate? Could melt, and he could be a diabetic. Wine? He might not be a drinker, and some states prohibit wine shipments.

A personal anecdote - I once found someone's work photo ID badge on the beach. I'd never heard of the company, and there was no "if found return to this address" printed on the back. I looked up the phone number of the company and asked where I should send the badge and I sent it. A few weeks later I got a heartfelt handwritten thank you note with a $1 bill enclosed; the note meant much more to me than the money -- I'd have preferred not to get the cash.

I guess picture yourself in his shoes and try to think of what you might like as a thank you.
posted by tckma at 2:50 PM on March 20, 2014

I appreciate all of these thoughtful answers. Maybe I should print out the Facebook post I made when I learned my possessions had been found - more than 200 likes and dozens of comments from people who were deeply moved by the news. I could add a note about how touched I was, and how touched so many other people were, and send some home-made oatmeal cookies with ingredient list (in case of food restrictions) and an offer to take him out for lunch, coffee or a drink next time he's in Portland?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:58 PM on March 20, 2014 [51 favorites]

I think that sounds lovely.
posted by bink at 3:03 PM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Cookies is awesome. Even if he doesn't eat them, he knows someone who does.
posted by cnc at 3:04 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

nthing cookies. Check out Cookies con Amore, artisanal hand-baked Italian cookies that are baked to order. The name says it all: cookies with love!
posted by magnislibris at 3:16 PM on March 20, 2014

Pass it on. Find something good to do for someone in need, do it, and send him cookies along with a note explaining how he inspired you. And tell him how you'll remember his kindness and it will nudge you towards the good going forward.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:19 PM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your Facebook idea would mean much more to me than cold hard cash ever would, it's a lovely thought.
posted by Jubey at 4:00 PM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

People who live away from commercial centers tend to be very practical. As nice as it sounds, a facebook album that might delight quirky urban people might not be much appreciated (except for a laugh).

I would go for cash in new $20 bills (hard to break $100's in middle of nowhere) along with a gift set of some sort (a few high quality kitchen/fishing/knife tools) and a photo of you and your friends holding a "Thank you!" sign.
posted by meepmeow at 4:16 PM on March 20, 2014

A Visa or Amazon gift card for $50 plus a thank you note.
posted by Lornalulu at 4:17 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lots of good ideas. I especially like the idea of printing out the Facebook comments so he can see how he inspired others.

You might also make a donation in his name to an appropriate charity - food bank, wilderness/conservation group since he found your stuff in a river. That way his good deed is passed on.
posted by brookeb at 4:40 PM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I could add a note about how touched I was, and how touched so many other people were, and send some home-made oatmeal cookies with ingredient list (in case of food restrictions) and an offer to take him out for lunch, coffee or a drink next time he's in Portland?

I think that's exactly the right idea. Money or a gift card might be seen as insulting (not just tacky). Since this is a gesture of thanks from you, cookies you made yourself will be a lot more meaningful than ones you bought somewhere, even if the artisanal ones taste better. Homemade cookies and a note from you are the perfect thing here. He'll probably never take you up on your offer to take him out for lunch, drinks or coffee, but he'll probably appreciate that you offered.
posted by nangar at 5:56 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I wouldn't give money. It's truly astonishing that someone found your stuff, but once he did it's not like he had to move heaven and earth to get it to you. Which isn't to say he's not awesome! But it's not like you have to compensate him for some sort of excessive financial hardship that he undertook on your behalf. Send him something heartfelt and quirky that expresses "holy shit, I can't believe my belongings somehow found their way back to someone."
posted by threeants at 7:40 PM on March 20, 2014

Nah, please give the money!: at least a standard 10% finder's fee.

Well, I appreciated a nice cash gift when I made a lost wallet return years ago (& I was actually kinda broke at the time). But if all the finder wanted was a measly cheap-assed miser's verbal "thanksalot", well then maybe they would have just sent it in anonymously.
posted by ovvl at 8:10 PM on March 20, 2014

I love your Facebook and cookie idea. I am older, live in the middle of nowhere and if I found your stuff I would have returned it as well. Even though I would take money if sent, it would feel a little icky. He returned your stuff because it is the right thing to do.

Don't get to artsy fartsy with the cookies. We like good tasty recognizable food in the boonies.
posted by cairnoflore at 8:37 PM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Homemade cookies. Even if he doesn't eat cookies, he will appreciate that you took the time to make him a foodstuff that people traditionally give one another when they are giving from the heart.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:13 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not opposed to the money idea; it might have been very hard for him to package up all that cash, if he were hard up, and getting some of it back might be nice. But I also love the cookies and Facebook idea a lot too.
posted by Capri at 11:05 AM on March 21, 2014

I think the note, facebook printout, cookies, and offer to take him out for lunch/dinner/coffee would be perfect.
posted by badmoonrising at 6:32 AM on March 22, 2014

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