Gifting – The Power of American Hearts

Never underestimate the kindness of strangers.

Sonia Billadeau April 08, 2014
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Eight months. Fifteen days. Then finally the call.

“We have a boy, 8 months, weighing 10 pounds, from Yekaterinburg. He can leave in 3 days.”

Three days to travel halfway around the world to Siberia from Philadelphia to finally become a mom. Scrambling to get my visa and passport ready. 6 suitcases packed and repacked to take everything the baby and I would need for an unknown period of time, only to be brought to a grinding halt by a ring at the door.

Another FedEx from Frank Foundation. This one provided the final instructions for my trip to Russia to bring the baby home. On the last page, a list of gifts I needed to buy. Twenty-seven gifts? Two days to purchase them. There was no money left, having overspent the adoption fund by thousands of dollars.

This was international adoption; truly a leap of faith and yet again, I needed to take the plunge. Twenty-seven. Twenty-seven gifts. Organized by category, male and female, government official, and host. The gifts could make or break the adoption as they helped encourage officials to sign papers quickly. They ensured that edible food was provided by a host family. Only one gift was actually named: a fax machine. I needed to take a fax machine to Siberia?

To the mall of malls with my beloved friend Jane, tasked to find twenty-seven gifts. An added challenge, the gifts needed to scream of American culture or products. Twenty-seven gifts and our only tools were a letter from the adoption agency, a list of categories, and an almost maxed out credit card. We plotted our strategy. They needed to be lightweight, portable, non-breakable, non-perishable, and they needed to survive inspection at customs in Moscow. American brand names were preferred by Russian dignitaries. No “Made in China” labels or the gifts would be rejected. Without a gift pleasing an official, there would be no quid pro quo, no signature, no passing of the adoption dossier. The entire process could come to a grinding halt.

First stop, the jewelry counter at Strawbridges. It was important to appease those high level dignitaries. We asked for a manager, showed her our letter, and explained the situation. We needed two, $50–100 gifts emblazoned with something American. I spotted a Perry Ellis watch, nothing I would ever actually buy, but the box was wood burned with “Made in America,” the Perry Ellis logo, and an American flag. Perfect. But, the watch was too expensive, though. My budget was already too tight.

“No problem,” chuckled the counter manager. She gave us the box with a much cheaper watch inside. Then to our surprise, she applied her employee discount to lower the cost even more. “It is for a good cause,” she said. While she was packing up our purchase, the manager stuck in two silver-plated picture frames. They were for an upcoming promotion, but she thought we could use them more. Feeling empowered at this point, Jane and I began to rethink our strategy.

We went to TGIFridays for a drink and stumbled upon a great idea. The buttons on the waiters’ suspenders would be perfect as the gifts we would have to bestow or use to enhance a less than acceptable gift. Beer brands, US slogans, flag pins–they all screamed America. We talked to the waiter, explained our cause, and he spread the word. Servers throughout the restaurant stripped their suspenders for us. Hundreds of buttons laid piled on our table. I was speechless. Strangers were helping me to become a mom. “Bring the little guy in,” was all they asked in return.

Gifting was not as hard as we originally thought, as people showered us with kindness. Who would have thought that hearts could be so giving? Jane and I were on a mission, with limited time and dollars and a big challenge ahead of us before leaving for Russia in less than 2 days. It was time to start the battle of the brands: Mouse versus Rabbit. Disney versus Warner Brothers. Who would win? Jane disappeared for a few minutes with the letter in hand. Minutes later she returned with about 50 empty bags all emblazoned with a smiling Mickey Mouse. She told me to hurry as the Disney manager was gathering up all things Mickey, Buzz Lightyear, and Donald Duck for me. “Free,” she added.

The box sat on the counter with my name scrawled on the lid and an added note: “Good luck, Mom.” Inside were clothes, music boxes, pins, videos, and stuffed toys. Jane was a power shopper, so she suggested that we take the box over to Warner Brothers and show them Disney’s gift of generosity to bring my baby home. Not to be outdone, the Warner Brother’s manager took our list and finished filling our shopping needs. Jane had used Americans’ kindness, sense of competition, and love of family to create a little rivalry between two American iconic brands!

Gifting was completed in less than eight hours–and under budget–thanks to the power of family and several generous hearts. It was time to bring my baby home.

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Sonia Billadeau


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