Small Gift, Big Impact: A Mitten Tree

Friday May, 4th is World Give Day sponsored by GiveForward. In response to this simple question, please tell us about a time when a small act of giving created lots of unexpected joy I wanted to share one of my favorite stories from my book, 1,000 Mitzvahs: How Small Acts of Kindness Can Heal, Inspire and Change Your Life.

“In October, I had an idea to participate in some Christmas giving. I shared it with my then nine year-old-daughter, who loves the Christmas holiday and finds it difficult that we don’t have a tree, stockings, or Christmas decorations like other kids. I decided it would be fun to create a mitten tree for the clients of the Dress for Success program I volunteer for. We’d find out what clients needed or wanted for Christmas, and then we’d work with my networking group of approximately fifty women to try to gather the money and gifts. I hoped my daughter would help me make the one-dimensional paper tree with paper mittens on a bulletin board that I could carry to my meeting for the women to choose from.

I gathered the art supplies for our project. Immediately, my daughter began to complain. “I didn’t volunteer for this, how soon will we be done?” she whined. We continued working despite her complaints. I distracted her by reading some of the requested items, which included dance pants for a thirteen-year-old girl. “How does someone who needs our gifts pay for dance lessons for their child?” she asked. “Maybe a scholarship,” I told her. Another woman wanted a Burger King gift cer- tificate so she and her husband could go out to dinner. My daughter commented that she didn’t think Burger King was a very special place to go out to dinner. Another woman requested a gift card for gas. My daughter continued cutting mittens and a few minutes later said, “Wow, Mommy, I am really lucky. We have a house, we have food to eat, we aren’t worried about paying our bills or buying gas. I am glad we are doing this together.” Then she chose a mitten for a grandmother raising her grandson who’d requested a winter snowsuit for the boy.

In December, a thank-you note arrived from the volunteer coordinator at Dress for Success. She told me that seventy-two women had received gifts through the mitten project. To this day, this is one of my favorite and most memorable mitzvahs.


Being a catalyst to make something happen is incredibly rewarding. It requires seeing an opportunity and taking initiative. This mitzvah was gratifying on two levels: first, knowing that seventy-two women received a special gift for the holidays, and second, that my actions taught my daughter a valuable lesson. My role in this mitzvah was being the person who got the ball rolling. The coordination meant collecting and gathering the goods, but this was relatively easy and didn’t even take that much time. The outcome from these simple actions was huge. The recipients and donors alike felt blessed by the opportunity, and I had the pleasure of knowing I’d been the catalyst and a teacher.”

This post is part of a blog series inspired by World Give Day and hosted by GiveForward.  To find other posts in this series please visit or follow us on twitter @worldgiveday.


Mitten Tree project

830) Volunteered today in my son’s classroom.

831) Donated money at a restaurant for a kids holiday toy/clothing drive.

832) Today was collection day for the mitten tree project. What an amzing feeling it was to have so many colleagues participate. The woman went above and beyond the request we had made. Many of them bought more than one gift for our mitten tree, some even made items to include in their gifts. Everyone seemed generally excited about being able to participate. I helped to collate all the gifts so they could be given tonight to the DSFO clients. I am sure it was a wonderful night.

Yesterday, I told the secretary of our school who is coordinating our school mitten drive that she had inspired me to create this other mitten drive. She was so happy to hear that.

Met with a colleague today who is helping me with some marketing. She has offered her services as a mitzvah back to me. I am so grateful to her.

Two year anniversary since my father died….

Today is December 1, 2008. My father died two years ago today. His death also coincides with my son’s birthday which turns out to be a wonderful blessing. Solomon was so excited today to turn 8. I had left three gifts on the table and he was so happy to find them when he woke up. Later, he confessed to me that he had peeked into one of the bags while I was still asleep. When he opened the presents he never let on that this was the case. I know sometimes my husband and I wonder if our kids really need one more toy, but today Solomon was so grateful for everything that he received. There were some baseball items (hat and cards), pj’s, legos, several gifts of money but his most favorite gift was a boxed set of Chaotic cards. He had been coveting them for weeks at Target and I was excited when I snuck them to the cashier without him seeing a few weeks ago. He was shrill with excitement when he opened them and saw what was inside.

I spoke with my stepmother today and she had gone out for dinner with my stepsister and her family. They ate Chinese food, told stories about my dad and toasted him. Officially in Judaism, you commemorate or have someone’s “yartzeit” on the Hebrew date of their death. So I have decided that even though it is sometimes easier to remember the english date I want this date to remain Solomon’s special day and I will light a candle in memory of my dad next week on his yartzeit December 8th. I am sure my dad would want it this way too.

820) Referred a friend to a colleague of mine for some services.

821) Have you ever offered to do something and then really wished you hadn’t? You might wonder why did I offer to do that. I had one of those moments this weekend and was even contemplating how I could get out of it. It was kind of a misunderstood offer that would require about an hour of my time which in itself was no big deal it was just that it was in combination with my son’s birthday party on an already busy day. In the end, I just figured I should make the best of it and did and you know what, attitude is everything because it turned out to be exactly what I needed at that time of the day.

822) Offered to drive two children to Solomon’s party to help out the parents.

823, 824 & 825) Donated a gift certificate to a Mitten Tree project, as well as coordinated a donation of hand creams and purchased some baby clothes for the project.

826) Brought new magazines to my gym to donate to the reading area.

827) Donated in memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holzberg of Mumbai, India.

I have recorded my 800th mitzvah this week

Hooray, I have hit a new milestone. Mitzvah #800. I am 4/5 of the way to my goal. I can’t believe that December 1st will be two years since my father died. What a learning process it has been. When my father first died there was just sadness and darkness. I know for me, time did help me heal and life continues to move on. I feel that my father’s presence is with me often and I think about it at unusual times. I remember many people telling me their own stories of their loved one’s right after he had died and now I am the one who has stories to tell. I am grateful for the learning that has come from this loss and hope I can help another with what I have learned.

800) Last Thursday, I shared my idea of the mitten tree with my networking group. Immediately we raised $250 towards gift certificates for this group. It was awesome. We already have almost half of the gifts we needed to get for the group. One idea and many people can make a huge impact. Together we can achieve more.

801) A friend emailed me that she was doing a 10 mile race for a charity in the town we grew up in. I made a pledge for her race.

802) Let a neighbor know that he had left his car lights on in the driveway.

803) Volunteered in my daughter’s classroom.

804) Gabrielle and her friend donated money to the Oregon Humane Society.

805) Lent a stranger my calculator when she needed one.

806) Complimented an older gentleman on a lovely cap he was wearing.

807) Picked up some trash on my walk.

Today, I witnessed a couple of mitzvahs at a children’s play place. A nervous grandmother ran to help a child get down the stairs before he fell. A girl brought a cell phone back to the front desk when she found it in the climbing maze.

I also received a mitzvah this week. I attended a local book festival last weekend. While I was walking around, I met one of the vendors. She wrote a book called Send a Sign. After talking for several minutes, she gave me a copy of her book. It was such a wonderful gesture and I have already started reading and enjoying it.