Christmas Gift Card Miracle: Strangers Play Santa for Families Who Can't Afford Presents

Filed under: Holidays, In The News

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A post on Jennifer Lawson's "The Bloggess" blog started a Christmas gift-giving chain. Credit: Jenny Lawson


Imagine having to tell your kids Santa won't be stopping at your house this Christmas. Or worrying you won't have enough cash to keep the heat on this winter. Or that you won't even be able to put a holiday meal on the table. That's when it's time to pray for a Christmas miracle.

In hundreds of living rooms across the country this season, those prayers are being answered, thanks to an infectious stream of giving and good will that has spread across the blogosphere.

In what sounds like a made-for-TV holiday special, it all started with one random blogger offering $30 gift cards to the first 20 people who answered that they could not afford to celebrate Christmas this year.

And then, one reader after another began to bestow random acts of giving, blasting the blog with offers to care for the 21st person, then the 22nd. The holiday post soon resulted in $22,000 in donated gifts between strangers, the Washington Post reports.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and her name is Jenny Lawson, know across the Internet as the "The Bloggess."

Lawson, a Texas writer whose funny, rambling, stream-of-conscious blog includes musings about "killing zombies, her giant taxidermy boar head and hiding in bathrooms drinking bottles of wine during parties," according to the Post, has garnered a fierce following of 10,000 daily readers.

"If you're struggling for money right now and don't know how you'll give your kids presents, I'll e-mail a $30 Amazon gift card to the first 20 people who leave a comment explaining why it would make a difference in their lives right now," Lawson writes in a Dec. 15 blog entry, adding that she, too, has struggled in the past and knows Christmas presents are a luxury some can't afford.

When the responses to her post began pouring in, the stories were often heartbreaking.

Sheri Carpenter wrote to Lawson saying she had braced her three children for the fact that they would receive no gifts this Christmas, the Post reports. With a disabled husband who can't work and only part-time work available for her, the recession hit the Tennessee family hard.

"It's all I can do to keep everyone warm and in the house," Carpenter wrote. "I just don't have the money to shop for my kids this year. I am trying to figure out how to answer the questions on Christmas morning, as I know my youngest is not going to understand why he doesn't have anything from Santa. It is heartbreaking."

A few days later, a woman wrote Carpenter offering to make jewelry for her daughter and two other people sent Carpenter gift cards, the Post reports.

"You don't think that people want to help people like you," Carpenter tells the newspaper. "When you been down so much where you're at, you tend to lose hope. I'm just grateful."

Lawson created a spreadsheet with donors in one column and people in need in the next, according to the Post. She matched them up, and donors could buy gift cards and send them directly to the people in need via e-mail.

One donor paid someone's rent for the month. The owner of a doll store sent seven dolls to seven girls in need. A man donated $1,000 for 10 different PayPal accounts, giving strangers $100 each.

Samantha June initially offered up a $30 gift card to a single mother of two, but quickly changed the amount to $100, the Post reports.

"Then, as I wrote to her," June says, "I thought of my own childhood and how much my single mother did without so that I could have my youth. I found my fingers typing $250 instead of the original promise of $100."

She ended up writing back to Lawson and asked to be set up with a second family in need.

Lawson tells the Post she thinks the gifts were made because the Internet creates an intimate community, where strangers can reach out to other strangers and say they care.

"When you're giving to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army, it's this faceless organization," she tells the Post. "You don't know how your money is going to get there or where it will go."

But, on her blog, readers could immediately see a need and move to help meet it, Lawson says.

"I wish I could tell you what this has meant to me but there aren't words for it," Lawson writes in a blog post dated Dec. 18. "The e-mails and comments coming in from people who got a Christmas miracle are incredible, but the ones from people so thankful to be able to help are even more moving. That's one hell of a Christmas miracle, y'all."

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