Two years ago, Jessica Sager posted on Craigslist that she had a $100 Walmart gift card for a family needing help with gifts. Friends pitched in more money so that she wound up with more than $800 to share, and with that she took families shopping. Families purchased pajamas and scooters for their kids as well as work boots, soap, bras and other necessary items.
Sager did it again last year, helping a number of people, including a man who used the gift card to purchase groceries, allowing him to use his own money to pay for much-needed medication. This year, she did the “Craigslist Elf Experiment” again, posting the project to her Facebook page and inviting friends to pitch in. In all, she raised more than $1,500 to take families shopping.
“The details are simple,” said Sager. She posts an ad in the free section for a $100 Walmart gift card and waits for the replies to come in. After enough come in, she takes the post down and starts reading through them, looking for those families she feels need the most help. “I can’t reach out to everyone, but based on the money I have available from my philanthropy budget and gifts from friends, I reach out to as many people as possible,” she said.
Among the dozen or so families she helped this year was a man named Antonio and his family of four. Antonio is looking for a job and is panhandling to feed his family, so the gift card came at a good time. “She was really kind to us,” he said. They mostly purchased toys for the kids as well as clothes and diapers. Sager made sure they got something for themselves, as well. “The wife asked if she and her husband could get different shampoos,” Sager said. “So I said, ‘Of course!'”
Sager also helped a woman named Elena on Christmas Eve. Walmart had closed, so they went over to Target, which stayed open later. Elena’s sister had responded to the Craiglist ad and had to talk Elena into it. “It’s funny,” said Sager. “They think it must be a scam. But I tell them that it’s just me, and I’m pretty real!” Elena, who works in a call center, picked out a present for each of her kids, but Sager had to talk her into getting something for herself. Elena got a new bra and a shirt, and then picked out something for her sister. “My treat,” Sager told her. “It’s okay if it goes over. We wouldn’t be here without her.”
Sager happens to be Jewish, so the Cragislist Elf Experiment isn’t so much about Christmas for her as it is about the spirit of the season. “It’s so easy, so rewarding and meaningful. And fun,” she said. “It’s a little bit of a magical experience, on both sides.”
“I don’t make that much money,” Sager added. “But it can be so simple and easy to connect and be human with people. My focus is to be really respectful of everyone’s humanity. Mostly I see parents who really love their kids and would do things as crazy as this to be able to give to their kids.”