Need a Great Gift for Someone You Love?

Let your friends and some strangers do all the work!

My mother turned 80 last week. Due to a recent loss in the family, she asked us not to gather right now but wait and celebrate in the summer instead. I understood my mother’s wishes for a low-key birthday but I also wanted to find a way to make sure she felt loved and appreciated.

I’ve already given her many lists of reasons why I love her, videos of family members expressing their love and books filled with favorite memories and stories about her. I wanted to celebrate her in a new way.

An idea dropped into my mind one day during meditation, as ideas often do! I was reminded of something I’ve seen a few times on Facebook – people post a request to their friends asking them to please send a greeting card to help celebrate someone’s birthday. The goal is for dozens of people to send cards to the birthday person so their mailbox is filled with colorful envelopes from folks all over the world wishing them joy and love.

I’d never tried this before and it seemed like the perfect idea! After all, my mom has already received so many gifts that express the love and admiration from her family. Why not give her oodles of love from strangers?!

Some of you may know that every year for my birthday I write love letters to strangers. It has been a practice for the past six years and I wrote about it here for Kind Over Matter in 2013.

I’ve had a lot of personal experiences of how a singular moment of kindness shared between strangers can have a profound effect.

My mom is also well versed in offering kindness to strangers. She often writes letters during my Birthday Kindness Projects, gives money and pizza to the homeless who linger around where she works and always takes homemade muffins or cookies to give away at BINGO games. My mom has a big heart and she connects cheerfully to people wherever she goes, always offering a compliment or joke to uplift.

So, when I thought about the idea of cards from strangers, I just knew it would be perfect. It would give her connections to people all over the world, but it would also respect her privacy during a time of sadness and loss. She could open the cards whenever it felt right and it could be a quiet kind of joy.

Over the last week my mom has received more than 100 cards of all varieties – some lovely store-bought cards, some hand painted or illustrated cards, funny cards, photo cards, you name it. She’s gotten cards from all over the United States as well as India, Lithuania, Switzerland, South America, Australia and England.

One woman who lives on the island of Guernsey sent a postcard because she knew my mom was an avid reader and had love the bo0k, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” A few people enclosed a $5 bill because they knew my mom always sent a little “mad money” in her own greeting cards.

Some people took my “icing on the cake” suggestion to offer an act of kindness to someone in celebration of my mom and then to tell her about it in the card. People did all kinds of wonderful things like donating to the homeless, buying strangers their morning coffee or buying new socks for the grand kids. (My mom’s philosophy is “You always feel better if you are wearing new socks.”)

Every day my mom has been sending me texts telling me about new cards that have come in! It has been a very loving and connecting experience for her. Here’s what she had to say about this gift: “As long as people are sending loving letters to strangers, there is hope for peace and unity in the world.”

Hopefully my mom’s story has inspired you to want to orchestrate a similar gift!

How to give a Card Bonanza to someone you love:

  • If you are using Facebook to post your request, make sure the person who will be receiving the cards isn’t a friend of yours on the platform. If they are, you will need to direct message anyone you want to ask.
  • You can also make a list of people you want to ask to send cards. Try to find at least 20 friends who would do this so it feels like an abundance of cards. Of course, you can request more – the more the merrier, right? Email or call each of these people personally to ask them. Simply tell them whose birthday is coming up and why it would be so special for them to receive a card.
  • Feel free to use my idea of asking people to offer an act of kindness on behalf of the person who is celebrating their birthday. Telling them about the kindness in the card adds another layer of joy.
  • If you want to have strangers send cards to your birthday person and you don’t happen to have a loving community at hand, consider asking the local kindergarten teacher if her students could make cards. Or, you could ask your book club, work colleagues, yoga friends, etc. You could also call a local Senior Center and see if they’d want a card-making project. Use your imagination to find a group of willing strangers!

A few hints/cautions:

  • Don’t give away the person’s age if you think they wouldn’t want people to know.
  • Don’t post the mailing address – rather ask people to message or email you for it. It is more work for you but it enables you to screen out anyone who may not have the best of intentions.
  • It can help folks feel closer to your birthday recipient if you share some things about who they are and what makes them so lovable. I created a document all about my mom and linked to some silly dance-party videos we’d made together so people could feel like they knew her a bit. I think this helped people write more personal notes. (Lots of people told my mom they loved the videos or the photo of her riding on a carousel.)

One last thing to consider:

For the past six years, ever since I started writing letters to strangers, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of reaching out to people I don’t know with kindness and the huge impact it has. I’m not talking about the impact for the recipient…I’m talking about how it makes me feel to give love to strangers. The sense of joy and connection is amazing. Your first impulse may be to orchestrate this greeting card bonanza for the person you love. But just you wait and see – it is a gift for everyone who joins in, including YOU.

P.S. If you want to hear an audio note my mom created about her greeting card bonanza, you can listen here:

Sherry’s mission is helping people find creative, intentional and impactful ways to celebrate life and to express love for family and friends. Visit her website or email her to say hello at Sherry’s book, “Say it Now; 33 Creative Ways to Say I Love You to the Most Important People in Your Life,” is now available on Amazon. Join Sherry’s free 5-day challenge, "Olly Olly Oxen Free: Permission and Belonging," here.

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