Group collects, distributes gifts - Albuquerque Journal

Group collects, distributes gifts

Inside the “Money Free Store,” a woman and her 3-year-old son shop for housewares and Christmas gifts. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)
Inside the “Money Free Store,” a woman and her 3-year-old son shop for housewares and Christmas gifts. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Editor’s note: Today, the Journal continues its annual Help for the Holidays series, spotlighting areas in which community members can reach out to neighbors in need. The series continues the next two Sundays in Living.

Gift Givers Anonymous, a tiny nonprofit clearinghouse, is all about the art and science of re-gifting.

It is dedicated to giving – as gifts to those in need – household supplies and other items that have been donated.

It operates out of two storage units near the intersection of Washington and Lomas and consists of a handful of re-gifting volunteers who want to give people around Albuquerque a way to do kind acts for other people, especially during the holidays.

Its mission: “To support and inspire others anonymously, one gift at a time, with acts of kindness and to continue this compassion chain.”

Gift Givers Anonymous began a few years ago in the driveway of the organization’s founder, Kalei Heartland, 43, who lives near Central and Eubank. She wanted to improve the quality of her Christmas experience by making it more about giving, so she found about 10 items to give away – and it made her feel great.

Since then, she has been taking donations of virtually anything, from just about anyone. Estate sale liquidators are a big source of re-giftable goods, she said.

Housewares in the Gift Givers Anonymous store. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)
Housewares in the Gift Givers Anonymous store. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

She got nonprofit status about eight months ago and since then she has given gifts to between 1,000 and 2,000 families, many of which are being served by local nonprofit organizations with which she’s established relationships.

Whatever she collects, Heartland stores in one of the two storage facilities donated to her by a former local merchant.

Then, after scheduling pick-up or delivery appointments, she and a small team of volunteers open the storage facility doors to those in need, often organizations such as St. Martin’s Hospitality Center, whose clients include the housing-insecure trying to set up a home.

A 28-year-old mother of two drove up to the storage unit one recent afternoon in a minivan. She asked that her name not be used because she is in a transitional housing program for people with mental health issues – hers include post-traumatic stress disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and borderline personality disorder.

A stuffed penguin is one of the many items coming and going from Gift Givers Anonymous. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)
A stuffed penguin is one of the many items coming and going from Gift Givers Anonymous. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

She picked up a stuffed penguin that her 3-year-old son had fallen in love with.

She also found towels, kitchen storage containers and pot holders inside the storage units, which Heartland also calls the “Money-Free Store.”

The woman spent about 15 minutes browsing and selecting useful items. “I think we’re done,” she said when her trunk was about full. Then she gave Heartland a big hug.

A few minutes later, another vehicle drove up. This time Gail Hofstadler and her husband, Hugo, got out. The Albuquerque residents said they have donated to GGA since its inception.

They’d heard about GGA because Hofstadler knew a woman, now deceased, who’d asked her to donate her belongings to family, friends and charities when she died, so Hofstadler contacted an estate liquidator who suggested Gift Givers Anonymous.

The couple emptied their trunk of their most recent donatables – golf carts and golf balls she’d placed in round metal tins. The items went into the storage facility and immediately became free for the picking. “I think it’s incredible that they work so hard,” Hofstadler said of the volunteers. “It’s quite wonderful.”

Coming up to greet the Hofstadlers and help them unload, Heartland took a look and said, “Somebody will be thrilled.”

This year, GGA is for the first time taking requests from organizations that need Christmas gifts for their clientele.

That worked out well for Laura Heithaus, president and founder of Baby Brianna Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving children’s welfare. It was founded in the name of Brianna Mariah Lopez, who was born on Valentine’s Day 2002 and died five months later of child abuse and neglect.

Kalei Heartland gives a hug to a 28-year-old mother who received donated household items from Gift Givers Anonymous. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)
Kalei Heartland gives a hug to a 28-year-old mother who received donated household items from Gift Givers Anonymous. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The foundation set a goal this year of providing gifts for children in the lives of the 75 to 100 families the foundation serves every month.

Heithaus had requested from Heartland any help GGA might be able to offer, and when she showed up in a minivan shortly after the Hofstadlers pulled away, she received more than a dozen bags filled with stuffed animals, crayons, Matchbox cars and other items for kids. Each unsealed gift bag was labeled to indicate the age and gender of child for whom the gifts would be appropriate.

“This is awesome,” Heithaus said about five times, visibly overwhelmed with gratitude.

“If this is not enough,” Heartland said, “we have more.”

GGA donates kitchen items, small appliances, furniture, cleaning supplies, medical and computer equipment, and clothes.

Having outgrown their storage space, they’re now seeking funding for, and donations of, a larger storage space with a room for an administrative area as well as a truck that can help them with pick-ups and deliveries.

Stuffed animals in gift bags are ready to go out to the clients of Baby Brianna Foundation. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)
Stuffed animals in gift bags are ready to go out to the clients of Baby Brianna Foundation. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Donors who offer items they no longer need get a boost, according to Heartland’s brochure, which states: “Spreading positive energy in the community creates positive energy within oneself and in others … inspiring others to join in and spread kindness on their own.”

In the alley outside the storage space, it was apparent the idea had spread to the 28-year-old mother. After loading up her vehicle with enough to start setting up her home, she listened as Heartland explained an upcoming GGA activity of wrapping donated holiday gifts, which Heartland and her crew would later distribute.

Upon hearing about it, the woman said: “I’m more than happy to help you wrap.”

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