This holiday season has been more memorable than years past. As I've done for a number of years, I've been doing a Random Act of Kindness every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I've shared these acts on social media in an effort to inspire others...
This year though, I had an even bigger wish, and I asked a bunch of awesome people to help me carry it out. What happened next was amazing.
You may have read a few weeks ago that I wanted to involve others in doing one epic random act of kindness during the 2015 holiday season. I asked that people around the country either donate to a group fund, or take it upon themselves to pay off layaways for strangers..
The idea of paying off a stranger's layaway is not new: just last year sports star Tim Tebow did this for an entire store. My hope was to get together funds to do something just as grand. I really wanted to make an impact this holiday season and share that with as many people as possible, both in giving and in receiving.
Fundraising was tougher than I had anticipated. Usually, I generate money for the acts of kindness by selling artwork or contributing personally. I had never tried to raise money by asking others to get involved. I worried that I wouldn't raise enough or make a significant impact.
However, I continued to post about it every day, and finally something magical began to happen; the donations started to really add up! Friends and loved ones across the country began to pour in with their contributions, and I finally raised over $1800 by the time the Payaway Layaway Weekend arrived. I hadn't quite met the fundraising goal I'd set for the project, but I knew that it could potentially pay off layaways for multiple families, and I was looking forward to completing the transaction.
Excited, I headed to my local Walmart, in Cape Coral, FL on December 12. I asked a friend to take a video of the transaction so I could share it with the people who had donated, and include them in the moment that they made possible.
We headed over to the layaway counter, where we told the employees what we were looking to do, and they were excited, too. There's even a special register key on the register for "good samaritan" transactions! To be sure we spread the love to as many families as possible, and that it was the children who would be the recipients of the generosity (since they are the one's believing in magic), the cashiers found families who had balances around $100 each, purchasing mostly toys.
The transaction took almost an hour... during which one final online donation online brought us to the $2000 mark-- right there in the store! I was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for what we were able to accomplish.
Thirty-one families received a whole bunch of toys for their kids and grandkids. This unified and extraordinary effort of strangers really put the joy back into the holiday season. I was the lucky one who got play Santa, but it was a multitude of elves who had made this holiday magic happen.
Just as we were finishing up, two women showed up to pay on their layaways. It was then that the Walmart employees let them know that they had no balance, and that I had just paid off their purchases with my recent transaction. One of the women came up to me with tears in her eyes and gave me a huge hug. She said by paying those layaways, I had just bought toys for her grandson and that it meant so much to her.
Then the second shopper came up and gave me a big hug too, saying I had just helped buy her daughter's first bike. I told them that this had been the work of so many more than just me, and that people around the country had worked together to make this happen for them and many other families. We were all overwhelmed with joy; it's a moment I will never forget.
Now here's when I have to make an admission: I'd be lying if I told you that as I left that store, part of me didn't wish for more. I wished that we had raised enough to pay off the entire store's balance, that we could affect even more people. Little did I know, there was more magic that was about to unfold.
My heart was immediately set on next year, and believe me, it still is. I began to envision making a bigger impact next holiday season. While I was dreaming of making this happen in multiple states for many more families, a bit of a Christmas miracle occurred...
News began to pour in of people across the country participating in paying off layaways. Stories from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other towns in Florida hit the national news. Nearly half a million dollars in angel layaway payoffs happened that very same weekend.
Now I know that this didn't happen just because of my Christmas wish,or because of the article I wrote asking people to get involved in paying off layaways. The important thing is, it did happen. It doesn't matter how and that's the magic of it.
My wish had been to do one epic thing to bring the joy back to the holiday season. Through this effort I learned a great lesson: That making an effort, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, is the only way to make a difference. Having faith in others, and believing that doing something small rather than nothing at all, can make miracles happen.
I'm proud that there are so many like-minded people out there who got involved and made their own impact. My faith is restored that there is good and goodness, and good old fashioned joy, left in the holiday season.
That was the biggest gift I received this year and it's thanks to you. You see, you reading this, believing that good things happen, is part of the magic--and that magic is not just for the kids.