Giving Tuesday is Dec. 3, the designated international day of charitable giving. And this year’s event is particularly special for the military community.
For the first time, Giving Tuesday features a military component in which service members, veterans, military families and others are urged to complete 1 million acts of kindness and post photos or other evidence of their acts of service on social media using the hashtag #GivingTuesdayMilitary.
The campaign, which falls under the umbrella of the worldwide Giving Tuesday movement, was organized by three military spouses: Jessica Manfre, a Coast Guard spouse; Samantha Gomolka, a National Guard spouse; and Maria Reed, an Army spouse.
“There’s so many little things you can do to change people’s day and impact their life,” Manfre told Military Times.
“We decided to focus on kindness, and we put the goal at 1 million acts of kindness,” she said.
That’s a a lot of people, Reed acknowledged, but she’s thought about how to achieve it. "If 25,000 people share with 40 of their friends, that’s a million,” she said.
The three military spouses first met in May 2019 in Washington, D.C. when they were each awarded the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year award for their respective services.
Instantly, the three women bonded.
“They feel like sisters, they really do,” Manfre said. “I couldn’t imagine my life without them.”
Said Reed, “We talk on the phone every .. single ... day.”
Reed, who is based out of Fort Hood in Texas, has a home improvement series dedicated to military families, called “Moving with the Military,” that’s dedicated to helping military families transform their houses into homes.
“We surprise military families with home makeovers,” Reed said.
But a Coast Guard family had never been featured in the series, so Reed and Manfre partnered together to create an episode highlighting a Coast Guard family.
“We got an amazing story — a sad story — it was a mother’s dying wish that she wanted to leave her family a home in which they could heal,” Reed said.
“It ended up being a beautiful experience, the way the community came together, the volunteers that we had, it was just kind of overwhelming,” Manfre said.
That outpouring of kindness set their current project in motion.
“Let’s just be nice," Reed said. "For no reason. Let’s just be nice. That could really change someone’s life. You never know what people are going through.”
In August, Giving Tuesday’s global movement was sharing various kindness initiatives on social media, and Manfre decided to send the Coast Guard “Moving with the Military” episode their way on Facebook.
Manfre didn’t expect a response. But to her surprise, Giving Tuesday’s communications director contacted her and asked if she had ever thought about doing something for Giving Tuesday.
Manfre’s interest was piqued, and the women set up a conference call in September about ways they could launch a new campaign.
“We wanted to bring it back to what Giving Tuesday was officially created for, which was to get people engaged with the community” and give back their time, rather than fund raise, Manfre said.
In just a few short months, #GivingTuesdayMilitary has expanded and now boasts more than 500 chapter ambassadors all around the world who are organizing groups to conduct acts of kindness.
For example, Manfre’s chapter in St. Louis is donating “blessing bags” for homeless veterans.
Joining a chapter isn’t required though, and individuals can either join a group or conduct their own acts of kindness independently. People who want to take part can sign up on #GivingTuesdayMilitary’s website, Manfre said. But they can also simply perform an act of kindness and share it by a photo or other means to #GivingTuesdayMilitary.
“We want people to make it their own,” Reed said. “There’s not a lot to prep for. When we talk to people they say, 'So, you don’t want any money. You don’t want me to buy anything. You don’t want me to endorse anything. You just want me to be nice.”
“If you think about it, it’s a change of mindset,” Reed said. “People are kind of shocked by that.”
Their only request is that people who take part share their act of kindness at the hashtag, even if it’s just a photo or a brief description, because that sharing may inspire someone else.
The acts of kindness can be big or small — from sending service members stationed overseas care packages or serving meals to the homeless — to giving a hug or a compliment to someone.
Manfre, who also works as a social worker, said that these actions can save someone’s life. Given the rising rates of suicide nationwide and specifically within the military, Manfre believes kindness is influential and can make a huge difference in someone’s life.
“I know the power of kindness,” she said.
Although the spouses are optimistic that 1 million people will participate in #GivingTuesdayMilitary, Manfre is confident the campaign will have a big impact regardless of the final turnout.
“We know we [will] have changed things,” Manfre said.
This isn’t the only year Giving Tuesday will have a military edition. In fact, the three military spouses’ goal is to leave a legacy and pass on the campaign to other military spouses.
And as a global movement, Giving Tuesday aims to make giving back not just an annual event, but a weekly one, according to Manfre.
“They really hope that Giving Tuesday is every Tuesday. Every week, every Tuesday, you find a way to give back,” Manfre said. “I love that, I think that’s beautiful. That would be our future that we would hope for.”