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Weight Watchers Members “Send the Love” on Connect Using Elfster’s Gift Exchanges

Weight Watchers Members “Send the Love” on Connect Using Elfster’s Gift Exchanges

Eleanor Roosevelt, who paved the way for so many strong and independent women leaders, famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Her statements were backed up a few years later by one Lady Gaga, who noted, “Remember there’s always someone fighting for you.”

send the love
#WWSendTheLove on Elfster

Both of these women are expressing that being strong, and gaining strength from other’s encouragement, are still relevant. When doing something difficult, it helps to have a strong community to back you up, keep you inspired, and help ferry you across those dark nights of the soul.

But that’s what can make changing habits and losing weight so difficult. It’s really one of the most personal and individual things you can do. It’s all about your body and your actions. It can be hard to make a community out of something so atomized. But that’s what Weight Watchers has done, and by using cool new social media technology, and the magic of gift exchange services, a group of Weight Watchers members have taken it even further.

Social media has made it easier than ever to find like-minded, encouraging people to help us through tough times and to help us summit difficult peaks. Healthy weight loss, which is really a sustained lifestyle choice, is one of those challenging summits. But by forming a community of support, and by sending each other gifts to help create a stronger community that knows each other better, a nationwide group has expanded exponentially. They’re connected by technology. They’re connected by a shared struggle. They’re connected by the victories that happen every day. And, in this sometimes autonomous world, they’re connected by friendship.

As the Lifetime Weight Watchers member who co-runs the group, Stephanie Keller, tells us: they hang together.

Finding Friendship Across the Country

The most amazing part about the group is that people are nice, and are almost unrelentingly positive and supportive—an enormous difference from so many other parts of the internet, which (spoiler alert!) can be mean. Anonymous online users on other sites are sometimes known for tearing others down for a quick anonymous thrill. That’s not conducive to healthy attitudes. But, as Stephanie explained to us, her Weight Watchers Connect group doesn’t have any of that.

inspirational sign
Finding others to help you stay strong can make your courage grow | Image courtesy Etsy seller PRINTANDPROUD

“Connect,” she explained, “is like Facebook, but it’s entirely positive. No one is ever negative on there. People share stuff and tell each other things that they can never share anywhere else. People admit to troubles and addictions. They share their stories. And the best part is that they’re supportive and motivational. On the internet, to virtual strangers, they’re sharing their before and after pictures. It’s safe. Nobody wants to see someone else fail.”

You could hear the excitement in Stephanie’s voice as she told us about the growth of Connect, which users join through the Weight Watchers app. She mentions that it’s “very hashtag based,” which can be intimidating to some users, but it’s also very user-friendly, and everyone is extremely helpful; Stephanie believes that’s the most important part.

“Everybody that’s on there struggles with their weight somehow, and some members have no one who’s supportive in their life. That’s where Connect comes in. I’ve made friends all over the country on there and we’re now friends offline too. Everybody is really, really kind on there.”

But some people have taken it a step further with a #WWSendTheLove group. We profiled them last year, talking to founder Stephanie Encin, when the group had really just started to get going. The idea was simple: members of the group would send each other motivational gifts to help each other with their journey. It was instantly a huge success.

Since then, Stephanie Encin turned the reigns over to Stephanie Keller and Davita Ritchie in October 2016, who before this technology would probably never have met (Stephanie is in New Jersey, and Davita lives in New Mexico). Their group has grown ever since, with as many as 850 participants. It’s something both incredibly simple, and emotionally wonderful: a gift exchange. It’s how they turn a community of like-minded, friendly, encouraging people into actual friends.

The Gift of Friendship

The group uses the Elfster Gift Exchange, which makes a nationwide program incredibly manageable and fun. It’s purely voluntary: you sign up to give and receive a gift box from someone else in your group every month. For about $25, people fill their box with 10-12 little, inspirational items. But the real heart of it is that you learn about the person you’re matched with.

Stephanie explained that it wasn’t just a matter of getting assigned a random person, and then sending them something. You may already sort of know them through Connect, or maybe they’re a total stranger, but, once matched, you start talking to them. You chat or exchange messages about what they like, where they live, who they are, and more. You discover their needs and wants, and then you send them something. For example, if someone you know was having a spring party, you might send them something green and seasonal.

And you get something too! “It’s like Christmas every month,” says Stephanie.

inspirational mug
Mugs are a gift that keeps on giving Image courtesy Etsy seller TheGiftableGoodies

Some gift ideas include:

  • Motivational posters: When facing challenges, it’s always good to have something that bucks you up, lifts your spirit, and gives you the strength to keep going. Posters can be moving or funny, but if they’re sent with your gift partner in mind, they’ll always be meaningful.
  • Inspirational calendars: I love 365-day calendars, whether they’re words or movie quotes or comics. But when faced with the daily challenges of healthy eating, a calendar with a different inspirational quote every day can be as fresh a wake-up as a cup of coffee.
  • Coffee mugs: Of course, real coffee is also as important as metaphorical coffee, which is why mugs are always a great gift.
  • Weight Watchers-inspired cookbooks: The best part about Weight Watchers is that you can make delicious meals while maintaining points and using the right ingredients. The organization has many cookbooks that make healthy eating easy and fun. It’s a great way to keep your friend on the path.

But one of the great joys is that this is a national group, so you get interesting gifts from all over the country. One of Stephanie’s favorite gifts was a genuine Alaskan Ulu knife.

Other popular gifts include water bottles or food items, like powdered peanut butter, and foodstuffs that can only be found in certain regions. Some members don’t have a Whole Foods, Aldi, or Trader Joe’s near them, but their gift exchange partner might. They might receive something they’ve been craving from afar, in a Christmas box in the middle of the spring.

A Few of Your Favorite Things

In January, Oprah got involved with the Weight Watchers Connect program, giving it that patented Oprah boost. But Stephanie thinks the Queen of Daytime should also get to know the #WWSendTheLove group.

gift ideas
Inspirational gifting ideas from the Send the Love exchange

“This is about people helping people,” she tells us. “This is a really great, motivational, positive program. People come back month after month. They don’t have to do it again, but they do. I get tagged and emailed all day long from people wanting to join. It was started by one person, and now it’s huge. It’s the power of people.” Stephanie believes that if Weight Watchers really got behind this—and who knows, maybe even Oprah—that it could be taken to the next level.

At Elfster, we can testify to their power. We’re proud to say that they’re the largest group we’ve ever hosted! Gift exchanges are a fun way to bring groups of friends closer together, or to turn groups of strangers into friends. It’s easy to get started, and as Stephanie and Davita show, they can be run by people on opposite sides of the country as if they were in the same room. That’s what makes them such a great tool for bonding; in a way, they bring the whole community into a big room.

And at the end, the bigger the community, the more people can feel loved. They can feel friendship and non-judgemental connections. It’s how strength is formed, and how real life changes are made. And it just makes life more fun! It’s the gift of being alive, and being a part of something. Stephanie and Davita’s group embraces technology, and relies on it, but it isn’t a technological solution. It’s people connecting to people. If more of life could come down to that, we’d all be better off.

Interested in joining the fun? Look up these hashtags on Weight Watchers Connect: #sendthelove, #wwsendthelove, #wwsendthelove(month), and #sendthelove(month). Stephanie and Davita can also be reached on Connect at @StephanieKeller65 or @LadyRoscoe.

Are you part of a community that uses a gift exchange? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.

A Sneaky Elf’s Guide to Hosting an Anonymous Secret Santa Office Gift Exchange with Coworkers

A Sneaky Elf’s Guide to Hosting an Anonymous Secret Santa Office Gift Exchange with Coworkers

Godiva chocolate gift box
A scrumptious gift box of chocolates | Image courtesy Amazon seller GODVIA Chocolatier

This time last year, I had just started in a new department at work. Along with my orientation package came an invitation to participate in the office Secret Santa gift exchange. I was hesitant because I didn’t actually know anyone in my new office, but my boss encouraged me to take part—and I’m so glad I did! This fun office tradition truly helped me become a part of the team.

On the day of the gift exchange, I arrived at work and found a beautiful notepad, cute mug, and delicious box of chocolates waiting on my desk. I was delighted with such a thoughtful gift—what a great way to start the work day! My anonymous gifter must have noticed my love of fancy stationery, and dependence on the office coffee machine.

The thoughtfulness of the gifts gave me such a sense of being welcomed and accepted in my new role in the company, despite the fact I had absolutely no idea who gave it to me! I loved that added bit of mystery, and the fun of trying to figure out just who my Secret Santa really was.

So, to bring merriment and mystery to your own colleagues, I offer these four simple steps we use at my own workplace:

Step 1: Make Sure Name’s Are Top Secret

christmas wrapping paper
Image flick’r user Hade2K

The whole point of Secret Santa gifting is just that—to keep it a secret. I love spending the few weeks leading up to the gift exchange wondering who’s busy putting together a gift for whom. There’s a giddiness that takes over the office when we all receive a name of a coworker and start planning out their gifts. Everyone’s excited and, as hard as it is to keep our lips sealed, we know it’ll be worth it in the end.

In order to keep our Secret Santa truly anonymous, my office utilizes an online Secret Santa tool that distributes the names for you. Bonus: the online system has the master list of names in case someone, like my forgetful co-worker Laurel, forgets who her recipient is.

Step 2: Put Your (Sneaky) Elf Hat On

Here comes the fun part: “Operation Undercover Christmas.” You get to put on your elf hat and covertly find out exactly what your coworker would most love to receive for Christmas.

designer notebooks
Designer pocket notebooks | Image courtesy Amazon seller B-THERE

Here are a few great ways to get into spy mode:

  • Dig into their wish list: Many online gift exchange services will offer the extremely helpful option of having participants fill out a wish list. This was a lifesaver for me last year because I was new in the office and had no idea what my coworker Bryan, whose name I drew, would most enjoy. From his wish list, I learned that he was a huge coffee lover—something we definitely had in common.
  • Try to learn about their interests in casual conversation: This approach is a bit trickier, and should only be reserved for the sneakiest of elves, because, if you mess up, you could be found out! Luckily, I had a good “in” with Bryan. Upon learning we were both coffee lovers, I made it a habit to join him for a mid-morning coffee break, and we’d talk while the pot brewed. During these chats, I learned that Bryan and his family were gearing up for a tropical getaway over the holidays—information that came in handy later.
  • Do an office stake-out: But… make sure to keep your elf ears pointed up so you don’t get caught! Last year, I think my Secret Santa swung by my desk and noticed that I was using a boring company mug from the staff kitchen for my many, many cups of joe. They probably also laughed at the fact that all of my training notes were written on post-its, and realized that I could desperately benefit from a real notebook.
  • Gather intel: If you’re still stuck for gift ideas, it’s time to take your mission to the next level and bring in some reinforcements—it takes more than one elf to keep the toy shop running! So, ask around. If you don’t know your recipient well, but have some friends in common, covertly get their take on what would make a great gift. Throw them off the scent by getting gift recommendations for a few co-workers, not just your recipient. That way, you’re still able to maintain an air of mystery.

Step 3: Don’t Let Little Details Blow Your Cover

a self stirring mug
A fun gift mug | Image courtesy Amazon seller OliaDesign

By this point, I had the perfect gift all ready to go for Bryan, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t give anything away in the final stretch. I picked a unique way to wrap his gift using a map of the Caribbean island where Bryan and his family would be spending the holidays. I was sure he would enjoy the extra effort, and that the map of his vacation island would have him dreaming of sandy beaches and blue waves.

But, I didn’t want Bryan to catch me walking into work with wrapping paper he would later recognize on his gift. So, I made sure to hide the present in a plain bag so he wouldn’t suspect a thing as I dashed to my desk.

While I was pretty sure Bryan wouldn’t be able to recognize my handwriting, I didn’t want to take any chances. To keep things super secret, I typed up my card and was sure to keep my name off of it so even once he’d opened his gift, he would still be clueless that I was the one behind it. Adding a few extra steps to make sure the gifting stays secret is definitely worth the effort!

Step 4: Successful Delivery Should Be Followed by a Festive Fête

Luckily, last year my Secret Santa got to work before I did and was able to drop a gift on my desk anonymously. Or, if you’re one of the last ones at the office, you could leave your gift the night before to be found in the morning.

Every party needs a gingerbread house | Image courtesy Amazon seller Wilton Enterprises
Every party needs a gingerbread house | Image courtesy Amazon seller Wilton Enterprises

However, my boss had an even better option for this year’s Secret Santa. She renamed our meeting room “Under the Christmas Tree” and even went so far as to cover the table in a tree skirt. Instead of trying to drop off our gifts to our coworkers’ desks directly, we’ll bring them to the meeting room throughout the day, leaving the wrapped presents on the table. That way, they won’t catch us in the act—or discover who their Secret Santa is. I can walk Bryan’s gift in the plain bag into the meeting room before taking it out of the bag, and he’ll never know it was me who brought it!

At the end of the day, we’ll all gather in the meeting room with the pile of anonymous presents waiting for us. I’m really excited about this idea because not only does it maintain the surprise, but it enables all of us to open our gifts together. My favorite part of Secret Santa is watching my giftee open their gift—and I can’t wait to share that experience with the rest of my colleagues.

Plus, since we’ll already be gathered up, we’re just a few snacks shy of an office party. So now our Secret Santa gift exchange is going to double as a mini office Christmas celebration. I’m helping to arrange a potluck of snacks and baked goods to be brought in, spending the afternoon decorating the meeting room, readying my festive playlist, and even bringing some gingerbread house kits.

Getting to know, and love, your coworkers is the true gift of playing Secret Santa—to find a new coffee break buddy in Bryan, or learn the recipe for Cassie’s scrumptious scones. So why not sip a little eggnog and chat with your office mates as you open anonymously gifted presents? Because a thoughtful gift becomes all the more meaningful when you get to spend time celebrating with the ones who gifted it to you.

Let us know how you’re keeping the “secret” in Secret Santa by connecting with us on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for extra inspiration, check out our Coworker Gift Guides.

How to Create Hair-Raising Halloween Fun: A You’ve Been Booed Neighborhood Gifting Game

How to Create Hair-Raising Halloween Fun: A You’ve Been Booed Neighborhood Gifting Game

A slight chill is in the air. Pumpkins are creatively perched on porches all over town. And the neighborhood candy collectors will soon be dressed to thrill, hitting the streets on their sweet mission to fill their sacks all the way to the tippy top. From princess to pirate, minion to mermaid, as kids young and old eagerly anticipate the big night, the question of the season remains, “What are you going to be for Halloween?”

Halloween only rolls around once a year, so as you contemplate this difficult decision, get your friends, family, and your entire community, ready for the celebration in a way that’s super thoughtful, generous, and a little bit on the sneaky side…

How to create a You've Been Booed Event Infographic

To snatch up Elfster’s free You’ve Been Boo’ed printable,click here.

Spread a little “Boo” this Halloween with a friendly scare for your neighbors. A You’ve Been Boo’ed fall-themed treat exchange is a fantastic way to bring everyone together in spooky spirit!

Never been “boo’ed?” Here’s how it works: Your family is assigned to another family in your neighborhood. You gather a little basket of Halloween goodies and secretly leave it on your neighbor’s porch, with a note letting them know they’ve been boo’ed—but don’t let them know you were ever there. This free printable card from Elfster will do the trick.

Using an online gift exchange like Elfster makes it even easier to get your family and friends inspired for a little hair-raising fun, and keep it a secret. If your neighborhood has a master list of everyone’s email addresses, it’s a quick and easy way to make sure you include everyone in the fun. Each family participating in the neighborhood “booing” will be assigned one other family they may or may not know, which makes it even better, and a great icebreaker for newcomers to the neighborhood. Be sure to invite older neighbors, too—they may not have trick-or-treaters at home anymore, but it’s still fun to join in the neighborhood escapades!

This free printable from Elfster is the perfect addition to your Halloween:

folding-card-elfster

I love how one You’ve Been Boo’ed organizer and “Halloween Hostess with the Mostest,” Paloma Benst, has reached out to her San Diego neighborhood of nearly 50 families to easily let participants know how the exchange works by posting the rules on her Elfster exchange homepage. Here are her great tips to avoid a Halloween headache:

Please answer the following questions and post them so the person that gets you knows a bit more about your family. This is going to be lots of fun!

1. Does anyone in your family have a peanut allergy?

2. How many kids do you have age, and their gender?

3. Any favorite candies?

4. Your family’s favorite movies or characters?

5. Do you have a favorite color?

6. Make it spooky or keep it cartoonish?

Please add anything else you think is important. You will deliver your “boo” personally, and let the organizer know once you have done so. 

With rules and expectations clearly defined, let the “booing” begin!

If you’d like to do a Big Boo Reveal Party, gather all the neighbors, even if they didn’t participate, for a festive block party, including a costume parade before the trick-or-treating begins. Ask around the group to find your secret “boo’er” to say thanks. Include pizza or your favorite potluck picks for a little snack, and perhaps a little “witch’s brew” for the grown-ups. And, don’t forget to pass out glow sticks before the sun sets and the kids are off and running!

Boo Halloween Front Porch Decorations

Photo credit Rugals

A You’ve Been Boo’ed gift exchange is a great way to celebrate Halloween as a community. Looking for ideas for your hauntingly great party? Be sure to check out Elfster’s Eat, Drink and Be Scary gift guide for some festive fun.

Want to include friends that don’t live in your neck of the woods? It’s just as easy to gather the gang online for your own secret Halloween exchange. It may just require a little extra driving, or shipping, but it will be well worth the effort.

And why not share some scare with your co-workers, too! That’s what Elfster exchange organizer Leah Cappadona has been doing the past two Halloweens and her co-workers look forward to this annual tradition. 

“We are an all female group of nurses who work in a cancer center together,” Leah says. “We spend more time together than with our families, so we see each other as extended families. With the nature of our work, and the fact that there can be ten women working in one room at the same time, our work days can be stressful and tense.”

“Once names are drawn, each week ‘Boo Buddies’ will leave a small surprise on their chosen person’s desk,” Leah explains. “A piece of candy, a Halloween Card, or sometimes we decorate the nurses desk and computer with fake spider webs. Last year, one of the nurses hid a fake rubber rat on her person’s chair. We like to be goofy and have fun with it. During our Halloween ‘party,’ we will each bring pot luck to the office and eat throughout the day. We all have patients at different times, so an actual party is not really possible. We keep it casual with a constant flow of food and people. Our gift exchange and “Boo Buddy Reveal” is usually food influenced. We all wish we could go back to the days of trick-or-treating. This is a great way to give a treat of a gift certificate to a restaurant, or a bottle of wine.”

“It really gives all of us something to look forward to, and an opportunity to not be so serious, loosen up, and really connect like the extended family we are,” she adds. Thanks for letting Elfster be a part of your festivities, Leah!

So now that You’ve Been Boo’ed, time to get prepped for the scariest Halloween ever! Explore Elfster’s Halloween guides for the ultimate inspiration, including super cute costumes for kids and pets. Don’t say we didn’t warn you! Check us out on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, and Instagram @Elfstergram. Need help? Send us a message at  help@elfster.com.

A Coffee Mug Gift Exchange for Moms That Doubles as a Back to School Teachers’ Craft Surprise

A Coffee Mug Gift Exchange for Moms That Doubles as a Back to School Teachers’ Craft Surprise

back to school teacher gift

Back to school prep—you have been conquered. From the binders to the #2 pencils, all the supplies are checked off the list, and the kids are getting used to their new school year schedules. Well, sort of.

Fellow moms, we emerge victorious from the hectic weeks of activities crammed into a few short summer months to keep our littles happy—and, let’s be honest, worn out enough for bedtime. Now to make plans with our mom-friends to congratulate ourselves on successfully getting through the mad dash transition from summer break to a new school year.

Let’s get together to commemorate summer’s end, and toast the teachers who are tackling the tough job of educating our school age kiddos. We can start to scheme ways to best support our kids’ teachers, share a few laughs about summer adventure anecdotes, and inspire each other to start each new school day off right—all while sipping on coffee and nibbling on bear claws. It doesn’t take a lot to make a memorable gathering, and we definitely deserve it!

Besides, what could be better than a back to school brunch and an inspirational coffee mug exchange with friends? Let’s face it, we all have a lot on our plates, but a little adult conversation, paired with a pastry or two, is definitely worth making room for. A quick trip to the store for a couple baked treats, a fresh fruit tray—maybe a delicious quiche or some flaky croissants with deli meat—easily covers the food spread with something for everyone.

Brew up some coffee and steep the tea, then ask your guests to bring their favorite creamer, potluck style, and a wrapped coffee mug with an inspirational quote, phrase, or image to exchange. I mean, with so many great novelty mugs out there these days, who couldn’t use a new favorite coffee cup, right?

When your guests arrive, get your gift exchange underway by having them place their wrapped coffee cups on a table, and then drawing names for all the mamas to pick a present, one at a time, from the pile. Or, create your exchange on Elfster ahead of time. This will allow each mom to personally select a thoughtful mug for someone else. This is a sure-fire way to guarantee each mug will be cherished for a long time to come! The new mugs can then be quickly broken in with a cup of Joe, or tea, as we delight in each other’s company.

Next, everyone can get crafty! Why wait until the end of the year to let the teachers know how thankful we are for all of their hard work? There’s no need to be super artsy to create a thoughtful gift. Just ask everyone to bring a gift card, in the amount of their choice, to a local shop or online store where school supplies are sold. 

back to school teacher gift

As the host, you can collect colored cardstock, glue sticks, double-stick tape, assorted colored thin ribbon, and some 100 Grand candy bars. Bonus points if the cardstock and ribbon coordinate with your school colors! You’ll also want to print off the phrase below onto computer paper ahead of time. They can be printed two to a page, and then cut down the middle lengthwise.

 

Cheers to a great new

school year to you!

While we wish we could give

(100 Grand)

to help the year go smooth.

we send that many thanks, &

more, to you for all you do!

While enjoying brunch eats, great conversation—and sipping from our new coffee cups—we can assemble a small token of appreciation for our kids’ teachers, showing them early on in the school year that we’re ready to support them. They are helping us with the most important job of raising our little ones, after all.

You, the “hostess with the mostest,” will have all the crafting supplies laid out, and then share the instructions below with your guests:

1. Cut cardstock into strips that are a bit longer than the poem print outs.

2. Glue the poem print out to a strip of colored cardstock and let it dry a bit.

3. Attach a candy bar over the “100 Grand” line using double-stick tape.

4. At the bottom of the cardstock strip, cut small diagonal slits just shy of where the 4 corners of a gift card would line up in order to hold the gift card in place.

5. Starting at the gift card end of the cardstock, roll the paper strips up to the top and secure with a small piece of double-stick tape.

6. Tie a ribbon around the roll—and voila!

teacher gift DIY for back to school

These colorful gift scrolls fit easily into a backpack—or can be tucked into a cute mug for an extra special treat—and then left on the teachers’ desks the next morning. They’re a simple way to bring a smile to a teacher’s face at the start of their school year!

Having had our fill of brunch treats, and feeling fully caffeinated for the day, we leave each other ready to champion for our children, and their teachers, throughout the school year. The coffee mugs we exchanged are happy little presents that will serve as a souvenir of our time together. Knowing that the days to come mean early mornings scrambling to help locate homework and missing shoes, the inspiring quotes will make us smile, and give us encouragement, as we sip our morning fuel of choice—whether it’s tea, coffee, or a quad shot espresso. After all, we know all too well that being a mom is not always an easy job and, although we wouldn’t trade it for the world, that doesn’t mean we can’t throw a little party when our children hop on the school bus this fall!

Planning a fall-tastic gift exchange to celebrate the kids heading back to school? Let the elves help! Easily start a Mommy Mug Gift Exchange on Elfster today or browse our Back to School Gift Guide for inspiration. You can also connect with us via Facebook, tweet us @elfster, or catch us on Instagram at @Elfstergram

Online Artisan Community Connects on Elfster to Share Unique Pottery Gifts

Online Artisan Community Connects on Elfster to Share Unique Pottery Gifts

image of potter

By its very definition, generosity is an act of unselfish giving—and offering one’s own talent, time, and creativity to a new friend you’ve just met is a beautiful example of selflessness. Recently, a group of more than 50 potters from many corners of the globe got down and dirty for a Secret Santa gift exchange. They used the Elfster website to help them share amazing and unique ceramic art created with their own two hands.

The pottery exchange community, led by Elfster exchange organizer and professional potter Katie Zupan, first came together on the popular Reddit website. According to Reddit’s site, it’s a “place of community, conversation, and connection with millions of users worldwide.” And within that vast universe lie many subgroups that serve to connect members with common interests, like pottery and ceramics.

“There are areas of Reddit called ‘subreddits,'” explains Katie, “which are basically mini-forums for specific interests, fandoms, and almost anything under the sun. I have been a part of the r/Ceramics and r/Pottery subreddits for a while, where we post our wares, get feedback, and share interesting things like cool new tools and techniques. I saw someone ask about doing an exchange for a bit but no one initiated it, so I thought I’d give it a go!”

source

The online community of subreddit potters boasts over 6,400 members who discuss “anything and everything related to throwing, hand-building, sculpting, glazing, firing, and appreciating ceramic art,” according to the site.

And the Elfster community is very grateful that Katie motivated the group to join us, and gave members the opportunity to share their creative talents in the spirit of spreading generosity by participating in a Secret Santa gift exchange.

Katie says, “I heard about Elfster from a group that I am a part of, Sign Makers, that I know in-person or from acquaintances! We held a Secret Santa during Easter and I really liked the ease of the site. I made a page for the exchange and posted it on the subreddits and we got almost 40 people participating from it!”

mustache pottery mug

This was Katie’s first time organizing an Elfster gift exchange and from the looks of the group’s gallery wall on Elfster, participants thought the exchange was a great success. Katie received this hilarious mustachioed mug and sent a note showing her appreciation: “Thank you so much for the cup and the little bowl! It has a ton of awesome character, and will now be my cup at work! Thank you so so much! It’s GREAT!”

A thank you note from participant Adam Dunn encourages his secret spinner. “I really like your pottery. Best of luck to you in finding what you need in your education and future. You are very talented. Keep spinning.”

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Participant Pam Kinnison also let her secret elf know she cares. “I love your work. Keep plugging along. Using the wheel is like using a bicycle. Once you learn and obtain the muscle memory, it gets easier :) ” (Her awesome gift is pictured here.)

Katie encouraged her group to get to know each other better by exchanging personal messages, as well as by posting pictures and thank you notes to the group’s photo gallery wall, which is a feature offered on Elfster to help communities share the exchange experience.

“I thought it would, overall, be a great way for people to share their craft,” she explains.

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And the elves at Elfster believe the incredibly talented artisans of this group certainly fit the definition of “generous.” We look forward to what they have planned for the future.

Want a great way to let your creative juices flow? Spread a little generosity in your own community. Organize a free, online Secret Santa gift exchange between friends, family, or co-workers with Elfster. It just takes minutes! Want to connect with the elves at Elfster? You can reach us via Facebook here, Tweet us @elfster, or catch us on Instagram at @Elfstergram.

 

Wish. Gift. Shop. Share.

 

Pottery gift photo credits: Katie Zupan, Pam Kinnison, Jess Baer

Awesome Mommies Celebrates Motherhood By Sharing Wisdom and Friendship

Awesome Mommies Celebrates Motherhood By Sharing Wisdom and Friendship

 

 

“Motherhood is always a piece of cake,” said no one ever, but the joys and happiness that come with being a mom certainly may outweigh the challenges. And sometimes it takes a village to get there. For one lucky group of “August 2015 Awesome Mommies” who all had babies nine months ago, that support comes from a community of like-minded friends who stick together through thick and thin.

“Motherhood is a long and lonesome road sometimes and if you don’t have a support system, you can feel overwhelmed and feel like giving up,” says first-time mom and Elfster Awesome Mommies group organizer Samantha Lane. Looking for a friendly, reliable and safe source to find baby advice and share concerns about her little one, this devoted new mom formed an August 2015 mom group on Facebook six months ago to address what other online communities were lacking.

 

“What began as a place to post cute baby photos became a community of first-time and ‘been there, done that’ moms who support and care for each other,” Samantha explains. “Our group is made up of almost 150 ladies from all parts of the world. [We are] women from different social and economic backgrounds with different views on life and child rearing.”

“No matter the question or concern,  there will always be a positive remark and plenty of advice to help you through whatever situation you may be facing,” she adds. “We may have been brought together through our August babies, but we have stayed so close because of the support and kindness we show each other. We have kept the group relatively small so that we can get to know one another on a more personal level.”

And according to Samantha, this group of Awesome Mommies is ”full of the most wonderful,  giving and kindhearted ladies I have ever had a chance to know.  Although I have never met any of them, we have created a bond that will only continue to grow as we and our babies do.”

The elves at Elfster are pleased to help connect this tight-knit community of moms who count on Elfster to help them express their appreciation for one another, as seen through several very successful gift exchanges over the past few months. The group’s first two exchanges focused on baby and sibling gifts during the holidays, as well as a candy exchange for Valentine’s Day, but the group’s current exchange has gotten more personal.

 

Our most recent gift exchange is for Mother’s Day, and it’s the one I’m most excited about,” Samantha says. “Close to 90 members have signed up and we’ve drawn names. As our past exchanges have been more about baby,  this one is centered on mom and things she wants or needs. It’s hard to buy for yourself sometimes, but everyone else loves to buy for others. We set the spending limit at $20.00, knowing some ladies can only spend less or will want to spend more. It’s not about the gift, it’s about the anticipation of receiving a surprise and the fun of shopping for someone you may not know that much about.”

“Our mission is to empower each other as mothers and to be there to support one another through the joys of motherhood while helping one another stay sane!” says fellow mom and gift exchange co-organizer Melinda Hurley-Patterson. “The guessing game and randomness of Elfster helps tremendously. A person can stay anonymous and can give insight to their preferences and their ‘secret’ can know where to mail gifts and no one is the wiser.  We love that it is all hush hush.”

“Our mom’s range from first time moms, to moms of multiples, to moms of six kids,” adds Kim Miller, another one of the group’s moderators. “The one common factor is that we all have a baby born August 2015. All are invited to participate in the exchanges, but at times all cannot.”

The bonds of motherhood go deep for this group, as expressed by the generosity of its members sharing not only personal anecdotes, but the sharing of wish lists on Elfster to help get to know each other better. Samantha notes that the group loves that “we are able to say what we’re interested in and create a variety of options and ideas for our gift giver. We plan on doing an exchange in August, of course, for our little ones first birthday, and I think it will be the most anticipated and attended one yet.” We hope so, little ones!

We applaud these lovely ladies and wish them all a very Happy Mother’s Day — whether for the first time, or if they have “been there, done that.” We hope these bonds of friendship blossom throughout the year, and thanks for letting Elfster join in the fun!

Are you looking for the perfect gift idea for the wonderful moms in your life? Or perhaps you’d like to add that special little something to your own Elfster wish list to give someone a hint? Be sure to check out Elfster’s Mother’s Day gift guide for plenty of sweet suggestions.

We would love to hear how your awesome group is using Elfster, too. You can reach us via Facebook here. Tweet us @elfster or catch us on Instagram at #elfstergram. Need help getting started with your own exchange? We can answer any questions you may have at help@elfster.com.

 

 

 

 

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Love the World You Live In: Celebrate Earth Day Every Day!

Love the World You Live In: Celebrate Earth Day Every Day!

 

It’s our world and it’s time to embrace it. Not just today, but every day. As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22, just think of all the ways you can do your part to protect our planet and help make a difference. The roots of Earth Day began in 1970, and continue as an annual event worldwide to demonstrate support for environmental protection. Earth Day is now celebrated in more than 193 countries each year.

In honor of Earth Day this month, the elves at Elfster have gotten into the action by sponsoring two community Meet and Gift exchanges which allow users from the Elfster community to connect with each other and celebrate Earth Day by sending each other themed gifts.

 

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Nearly 600 Elfster community members are taking part in the largest exchange, called “Our Beautiful Earth,” which suggests that participants mail a photo of something beautiful from photographs they have taken themselves to celebrate the beauty of Earth. Each participant will mail their partner a printed photo that they think shows the Earth’s wonder along with a description of the place and why they love it. A perfect way to show to celebrate Earth Day!

“We already know that people love connecting with each other through gift exchanges,” explained Peter Imburg, CEO of Elfster.com. “Sending a photo to another person of a part of the Earth that you find to be beautiful and inspiring is a great way to allow everyone to join in the fun.”

In addition to the photo exchange, there is also a “Natural Beauty and Grooming” exchange that allows the 150 participants to exchange their favorite natural products.

Are you looking for great tips and gift ideas to celebrate Earth Day and make your friendly mark on the planet? Elfster is proud to feature many eco-friendly products for you and the world around you. And every little effort makes all the difference to the world.

 

 

Go Plant a Tree

Spring has sprung, so it’s time to get outside and embrace it. Need a little inspiration? Shop Elfster to create your own environmentally-friendly backyard garden oasis. Check out Elfster’s Gardening Gift Guide, which features fresh, new garden essentials for you or your favorite green thumb — from perfect planters to terrific tools. Celebrate the beauty of the world you live in with your friends and family by hosting a Secret Santa style springtime gift exchange on Elfster, too!

 

 

 

 

Go Au Naturale

Think fresh. Think healthy. And go natural. Elfster’s  Wellness Gift Guide offers many options that are eco-friendly, organic and non-toxic to protect the beauty of our earth. From reusable water bottles to keep you hydrated and in top form, to plant-based remedies to give your body a healthy glow, our earth-loving essentials will keep the world around you simple and safe.

So celebrate Earth Day and honor our amazing planet. And don’t forget to give Mother Nature a big hug today and every day!

Need help using Elfster? You can reach us via Facebook here. Tweet us @elfster or catch us on Instagram at #elfstergram.

 

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The Handwritten Letter Project Sparks Creativity in Pen Pal Group

The Handwritten Letter Project Sparks Creativity in Pen Pal Group

 

 

“There is something gentle and authentic about a handwritten letter.”

— Emma Mitchell,

Creator of The Handwritten Letter Project & Elfster exchange organizer

 

 

In these times of hustling and bustling through each and every day, there never seems to be enough time to stop and reflect on the beauty of life and the world around us. It takes a special person to be able to “turn it off” and sacrifice precious time to nurture a relationship with a complete stranger, like perhaps someone who shares a common interest in enjoying the simple things in life. But members of one lucky group have made the time, as they have decided to press “pause” and take part in “The Handwritten Letter Project,” a pen pal letter exchange created by the multi-talented Emma Mitchell — a UK-based jewellry designer, craft teacher, writer and mum.

“Last summer I had an idea to write some of my blog posts by hand and exchange letters with fellow bloggers and creative folk,” says Emma. “It had struck me that in this age of emails, DM’s, Facebook notifications and texts we hardly ever pick up a pen and write a note to someone, except perhaps if it’s their birthday or we need to tell them that we’ve put the bins out. I was rather overwhelmed with requests to exchange letters with my readers. It seems that I’d hit on something — a desire to return to writing letters by hand as many of us did when we were children, and receiving envelopes in the post containing pieces of paper on which someone has written to you.”

This concept of taking life back to a simpler time, if only for a short while, has caught on and “The Handwritten Letter Project” continues to grow, day by day. This unique Elfster exchange boasts nearly 800 creative pen pals from all over the world and will remain open to new participants throughout the year.

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“I was keen to link the keen letter writers up with one another and at first was not sure how I could do it without a huge amount of admin,” Emma explains. “Then just before Christmas 2015 Sara Tasker of the beautiful Instagram feed and blog meandorla set up a gift exchange using Elfster. I’d never heard of the website before, but it made me wonder whether I could use the exchange system to build the letter writing group.”

And though the Elfster website is handling the “technical side” of this lovely exchange, the elves at Elfster certainly can appreciate the generosity and spirit of giving that is being promoted by the participants in this letter writing mission that is changing hearts and minds for all those who join.

“I set up the exchange and spoke about the idea on my blog, Instagram and Twitter in mid January,” Emma says. “The launch happened to coincide with National Handwriting Day (January 23) and the response on social media was phenomenal. I was interviewed twice for BBC radio about helping to revive letter writing by setting up the Elfster letter exchange.”

For those not in the know, National Handwriting Day is celebrated on the anniversary of the birth of John Hancock. It was chosen as he was the first man to sign the Declaration of Independence with a flourish.

 

“So far, the Handwritten Letter Exchange has [close to 800] participants,” she adds. “It’s a truly international group and includes letter writers from 10 countries round the world.”

“Those who have signed up for the Letter Exchange all miss writing letters by hand and remember the pen pal partnering projects that took place in the UK in the 1970s and ‘80s,” Emma explains. “They will have received the name of someone to write to and someone else will write to them, resulting in two potential pen pals. I’m hoping (and most of the group are too) that it’s not just a case of a single letter being sent though. The ultimate aim is that I’ve introduced lots of long-term pen pals to one another and the letter writing will continue for a long time yet.”

With a group this large, the task of managing participants from all over the world could seem a challenge, but Elfster is proud to support such a beautiful movement.

“The Elfster system is easy to set up and sign up to,” Emma says. “It’s automated, and it provides a hub for the group to chat and post any problems or enquiries that they might have and where I can answer their requests and draw partners for the latest sign ups.” Group members also have the option to create wish lists, which will give their pen pals more insight into their personal style, and “may provide them with a little information about their pen pals before they reach for their stationery.”

“The Handwritten Letter Exchange” is now open to new members, as Emma has extended the deadline for joining the exchange indefinitely. “Anyone who fancies exchanging slow mail with someone new can sign up here and I will draw partners every few weeks—it is now a rolling, ongoing project,” she explains.

Besides just exchanging letters, pen pals are also taking the opportunity to share some of their creative talents with small tokens of generosity.

“There’s a hashtag on both Twitter and Instagram, #writealetterbyhand, for the letter writers to post images of writing and receiving their old-fashioned correspondence and for them to connect with one another outside the Elfster forum,” Emma says. “Each day beautiful pictures of sketches, drawings, beautiful handwriting, newly rediscovered fountain pens, pressed flowers and even, in one case, a jar of marmalade that were sent by a participant are shared using the hashtag.”

“I have been so thrilled by the response to setting up ‘The Handwritten Letter Project’ Exchange. There is a movement towards slower, less frenetic living and I think letter-writing fits with that very well. Thank you to all who have signed up — I think mailbags are going to be a little heavier in the months to come,” Emma concludes. “Do pop over and join in if you fancy grabbing fountain pen and writing paper and exchanging a little snail mail.”

Want to follow Emma Mitchell and “The Handwritten Letter Project” on social media? Check it out here:

Twitter

Instagram

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The elves at Elfster are thrilled to lend a helping hand to Emma and her “Handwritten Letter Project.” We share Emma’s passion for generosity and hope this movement continues to grow all over the world. Does your Elfster group share a passion for spreading happiness? We would love to hear how your group is using Elfster, too. You can reach us via Facebook here. Tweet us @elfster or catch us on Instagram at #elfstergram.

 

photo credit: Claire Sutton, Emma Mitchell

Secret Piggies Swap Sweet Valentine Gifts

Secret Piggies Swap Sweet Valentine Gifts

They say ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ but who wouldn’t love a little snuggle from one of these cuddly and adorable little piggies? They are sure to capture your heart with a single nuzzle. So when we came across this unique gift exchange created for a group of piggy sweethearts, the elves at Elfster had to know more about our smallest users with names like Georgie Porgy, Miss Piggy, Truffles and Jimmy Dean.

The Secret Piggy Valentine Gift Exchange was organized by mini pig owners Jessica Smith and Jessica Dutton, who both belong to a large Facebook community created as a forum for discussion and education. According to Smith, “We actually belong to two main groups on Facebook, Just Mini Pigs and Mini Pig Education. Each group has about 10,000 people. Not all are active participants, or own pigs. Some are there to gather information about what it is really like owning a miniature pig as a pet.”

So what exactly is a miniature pig? “There are really no actual teacup, micro or nano pigs,” explains Smith. “Those are marketing terms used by unreputable breeders. The real term would be mini pig and that is any pig under 150-200 lbs. There is the pot belly pig which is the largest. The ironic thing about pigs is they grow until they are 5 years old. Often when people sell ‘teacup’ pigs, they’re just days old. With that, there are many of us that rescue pigs. We work with reputable breeders who may have room or try to find homes on our own. It happens more then you can imagine people buy a pig and rehome it when they begin to grow.”

And being the “parent” to a mini pig may have its challenges, but also many rewards. “They are like living with a toddler,” she explains. “Pigs enjoy loud toddler toys and playing with baby toys. There are some piggy puzzles where you can teach your pig to do the puzzle and a treat will be dispensed. Pigs will do anything for a treat. Generally a Cheerio or fresh veggies. They really require work, much as a toddler. If they get bored they can be naughty. They love people and they need the companionship.”

“Many of us have our pigs indoors. They can be outside in a barn. Many people get one, fall in love and end up taking more in,” Smith says. “My pig is an indoor pig. She does go to the bathroom outside, but hates the cold.  When it is warmer, she will spend time outside hanging out in the yard. She has her own ‘bedroom’ area. At night time, my pig does sleep in a very large crate in her bedroom. She puts herself to bed about 9 p.m. If you try to wake her to put her outside one last time, she will whine and cry. Pigs cry actual tears. She gets up around 6:30 a.m.,  then goes back to bed till about 9 a.m. Routine is very key, and they have their own routine. They know breakfast, lunch and dinner times. She knows the word Cheerio and comes running.”

But despite all the cuteness, one important note worth mentioning is the commitment a family takes on when adopting a mini pig. “I would never recommend a mini pig to a family that works away from home,” she advises. “I encourage only people that work from home or are a stay-at-home parent to think about owning a pig.”

The exchange of special treats for these smart piggies is a great way for mini pig owners all over the United States and Canada to connect on Elfster to support each other and get to know one another in a fun and personal way.

“The purpose for this [Valentine’s Day] exchange is for a secret female to send a gift to a secret male,” Smith explains. “We did not do couples, however, we will probably do it that way next year for Valentine’s. We have 44 pigs. Because there are just two of us, we did not want more than 50 pigs. The goal is for each pig to receive something for themselves, such as treat balls, treats, different things pigs like. If someone wants to, and the majority do, they include something for the humans [that is] pig related as well. We have a spending limit of up to $25 to keep things somewhat fair.”

And what are these piggies adding to their Elfster wish lists (with a little help from their humans, of course)? “The piggies have been wishing for all types of things,” she says. “Treat balls are popular. This is a ball that you can put Cheerios in, and it will only dispense a Cheerio when it rolls on a certain part of the ball. Others have asked for treat puzzles, there is a new Kong pig toy, pig treats called Whimzees. Those seem to be the most popular.”

 

This is the group’s first time using Elfster after hosting a previous exchange for the piggies at Christmas, which proved time consuming for the organizers who were doing everything by hand. Once they discovered Elfster, their job of pairing piggies and tracking down packages got much easier.

“Elfster has helped us a great deal,” Smith says. “We definitely plan to keep using Elfster. People already want an Easter exchange, so I’m sure we will be doing that next.” And we are glad to say the group’s Secret Piggy Easter Exchange is now up and running!

The elves at Elfster look forward to seeing the Secret Piggy group for its next exchange to celebrate their favorite four-legged friends. Are you a part of a group who shares a passion for pets? We would love to hear how your group is using Elfster, too. You can reach us via Facebook here. Tweet us @elfster or catch us on Instagram at #elfstergram. Need help getting started with your own exchange? We can answer any questions you may have at help@elfster.com.

 

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