Similar to many older adults, Peggy Wheatcroft wasn’t too excited about turning 80. When asked if she wanted an 80th birthday party, she declined. She didn’t want to be in the spotlight. Suddenly, she had a six decade old memory pop into her head. In the 1950’s on her friend’s 21st birthday, she gave her mom 21 roses. Instead of waiting for someone to give her a gift, this friend gave one. Even at the time, Peggy felt impressed by this act of kindness. This memory got her thinking what alternative ways she could celebrate her 80 years of life. And a surprise gift to strangers seemed like the perfect idea.
“What could I give?” Peggy wondered. According to this AARP article, she knew a surprise gift to strangers was the way to go. Well, she was turning 80. Therefore, 80 dollars given to 80 friends seemed appropriate. After careful consideration of her options, she purchased 80 blue envelopes, and enclosed four 20 dollar bills in each. She had already concluded that she wanted to hand deliver them.
However, this was no ordinary gift of money. Included in each envelope alongside the cash, there was a note. In honor of her birthday, she was asking the recipient to give the money to anyone they chose. She instructed them to find someone who would least expect it, and write back to her explaining the experience. She ended each note with, “Let’s spread a small bit of joy!”.
Throughout the year of her 80th birthday, Peggy hand delivered 78 out of the 80 envelopes to friends. The last two she mailed. As responses about the experience arrived, two things stood out. First of all, the joy of giving someone this gift in person was very apparent. Peggy received so many heartfelt letters back, many with photos of the receiver of the money. Next was the rapport created when the givers explained the source of the money.
The givers often gave the cash to those who needed it most. One overheard a bank teller saying she would be out of work for six weeks following a double mastectomy surgery. They immediately handed her the cash to help with this hardship. Others left big tips for service workers, such as waiters or gas station attendants. Some even donated to homeless shelters.
Regardless, Peggy’s gift of giving had massive ripple effects. Some continue to give in this way, even three years later. Others have made it a family tradition with their children. Peggy says she’s glad the gifts were hand delivered. She wanted to emphasize the joy of positive in-person interactions. As for the numerous ways people spread the joy, they surpassed any of her expectations.