Peggy Wheatcroft decided when she turned 80 years – old she was going to give presents rather than expect to receive them.
She bought 80 blue envelopes and place four $20 bills in each along with a self – addressed stamped postcard and a note asking people, in honor of her birthday to give the money to anyone they chose.
“Find someone who least expects it,” she wrote. “Then write … and tell me about your experience. Let’s spread a small bit of joy!!”
The weekend of her 80th birthday, she started handing out the envelopes to family members and friends who were in town for the wedding of one of her grandsons. She continued to deliver envelopes over the next year until all 80 had been handed out.
“As postcards arrived,” Wheatcroft wrote, “two things stood out. The first was the joy people experienced when giving in person. Many sent me heartfelt letters, some with photos of the receiver. The second was the rapport created when givers explained the source of the money to recipients. It was as if they were teaming up to help an 80 – year – old celebrate her birthday.
“People who gave the $80 as a lump sum often gave it to a person struggling with expenses. One woman heard a teller at her bank say that she would be out for six weeks for reconstructive surgery after a double mastectomy. The woman reached into her purse and gave the teller the $80 and my note. On her postcard she told how the woman cried and cried.
“Other people left a big tip for a service worker – a waiter or a gas station attendant. A mother of two young children wrote about seeing a boy of 11 or 12 walking her street on a summer day asking for work. After he’d labored an hour in the heat, she walked over and told him how much she admired his work ethic and determination. She gave him a $20 bill, and a huge smile crossed his face.”
One couple bought 52 pairs of socks and took them to a shelter right before Thanksgiving.
“My gifts had unexpected ripple effects,” said Wheatcroft. “One man whom I gave an envelope continues to give, three years later. He says he’s now more aware of the people around him and is more comfortable with giving to strangers.”
Giving, not receiving, turned into one of the best presents for this lady.