Many worthy organizations often request donations in honor of Giving Tuesday—the international initiative geared toward helping neighbors in need—but local mentoring nonprofit Thread has spearheaded a more interactive way for locals to give back on November 29.
“Giving Tuesday is just the click of a button for a lot of people,” says Allison Buchalter, senior director of communications and community engagement for Thread, a local program which connects volunteers to underperforming high school students in Baltimore City. “But if you’re not able to give monetarily, getting together with other people who share the same interests and want to support others is a really powerful feeling.”
In conjunction with Thread’s community service-driven “Conversation Thread” program, which launched after the Baltimore Uprising in April 2015, more than 1,000 locals have pledged to perform multiple acts of kindness (everything from organizing supply drives for animal shelters to stocking Little Free Libraries) throughout the city on Giving Tuesday.
“We started Conversation Thread because we thought it was important, not only for our students, but for the city at large,” Buchalter says. “Thread is all about creating relationships and bringing people together who wouldn’t otherwise unite. So we thought, if we have the capacity to do that with our students and volunteers, we have the capacity to do it with our city.”
Conversation Thread’s endeavors began with a community-wide giving initiative during the holiday season last year, and gained momentum throughout 2016 with 100 organized dinners that brought together locals from different neighborhoods, cultures, and walks of life. It was through the connections made at these events that lightning struck for Conversation Thread’s Giving Tuesday movement.
“It was amazing what came out of these conversations because you don’t necessarily think people are going to be so open, but they felt like they were in a really safe place to take a deeper dive into the city’s vulnerability,” Buchalter says. “But there’s only so much talking you can do.”
In an effort to turn the organization’s brainstorming sessions into action, Conversation Thread hosted a special convention in the grand ballroom of the Hilton Baltimore earlier this month. Attended by the likes of Johns Hopkins University professor emeritus of sociology Karl Alexander, Baltimore-born actor Josh Charles, and hundreds of other Thread mentee families and volunteers, the event tasked participants with gathering into groups and planning ways to give back to communities in need on Giving Tuesday.
“It was quite something,” Alexander says. “It was almost overwhelming—being with so many people from all different backgrounds with such energy and enthusiasm to do something good for Baltimore City.”
Inspired by this massive exchange of ideas, 1,000 volunteers will disperse throughout the city on November 29 to perform acts of kindness including chalking love letters to Baltimore on city sidewalks, planning dance parties at senior centers, writing letters of appreciation to school principals, hosting neighborhood game nights at local barber shops, and distributing “Blessing Bags” full of clothing and personal care products to citizens who are displaced.
“It certainly has the potential to snowball,” says Alexander, whose group will be greeting students and meeting with the principal to discuss further outreach efforts at Federal Hill Preparatory School. “One of my frustrations is the unrelenting amount of negative stories that you hear about Baltimore everywhere you turn, but the city is full of caring people eager to do good and help one another. If these counter voices could get the same attention, it could really have a lasting effect.”
Buchalter says that she is most excited to continue Thread’s mission of fostering relationships through the Giving Tuesday movement, which locals are welcome to join by using Thread’s online sign-up form. In addition to Thread’s efforts, plenty of other area organizations are providing ways to give back as the holiday season kicks into gear.
“We always see the stories on Facebook about the person who gives an astronomical tip to a waitress, buys a stranger a cup of coffee, or magically leaves someone groceries,” Buchalter says. “It’s easy to credit these things as one-offs and not think of it further. But the isolated incidents change people’s lives. If we all acted in that way, we could really change our community.”