The morning Danielle Gletow’s website crashed, she was dumbfounded. Her inbox was also flooded with emails.
Her small nonprofit, One Simple Wish, was in the middle of a storm — in a good way. The site posts requests from current and former kids in foster care across the country, and anyone can sign on and grant the wishes, such as clothes, athletic equipment and school supplies.
All of a sudden on June 22, hundreds of the wishes had been granted seemingly all at once, and dozens of people were asking whether they could do more.
“I was baffled — I couldn’t figure out what was going on,” said Gletow, 43, whose organization works with nearly 2,000 foster care caseworkers, social services agencies and charities that post wishes through One Simple Wish.
“So many people went to our website that morning that it finally just crashed, and we had to redirect the traffic,” said Gletow, who lives in Ewing, N.J.
Gletow soon learned that people were flocking to her site because of a comment on the social media site Reddit. A user had left a post on the AskReddit page: “What is something you’ve done purely out of the goodness of your heart, but have never told anyone?”
One of the responses was: “I went to the web site: onesimplewish.org which specializes in providing foster kids with things they wouldn’t ordinarily get,” wrote the commenter, whose Reddit name is dartdoug.
“An 11-year-old was asking for a bike for his birthday, but his foster family couldn’t afford to buy him one,” his comment continued. “For less than $200, I paid for the kid’s new bike.”
More than 7,000 people posted comments of their own about how they’d also like to help. Then several thousand people swamped Gletow’s website and Facebook page, many to snap up the wishes, including swim lessons, fuzzy blankets and computers.
In the three weeks since dartdoug’s comment, more than 1,500 wishes have been granted on her website, and an additional $200,000 has been donated to help grant future wishes, she said.
Gletow said in an average month, visitors grant about 500 wishes.
When reached by The Washington Post, dartdoug declined to comment or provide his name, but said he lives in New Jersey.
Gletow said she learned there’s a name for what happened to her site after his comment.
“It’s called the ‘Reddit Hug’ or the ‘Hug of Death,’ but to me, it was the hug of love,” she said.
In addition to the wishes, comments on the Reddit post and her own social media pages from both donors and kids in foster care brought her to tears, Gletow said.
“Just sent some art supplies to a 4 yr. old,” wrote one Reddit user. “So much more fun than online shopping for stuff I don’t need. Thanks for sharing!”
“I’ve been more fortunate than most lately, so I’ve just sent two scooters to two sisters in New Jersey,” commented another wish provider.
“Reddit Community, thank you for purchasing me a gift card for college supplies,” an 18-year-old posted on Facebook. “I look forward to this next chapter of my life.”
Redditors said it felt good to pitch in and help.
An Oregon woman granted a 14-year-old boy’s wish for a new laptop computer after reading in his request that he’d been through a recent trauma and moved from the city to the country for mental health reasons.
“For me, it’s just another charge on my credit card to worry about later,” said the woman, who asked to be identified as Katherine M. “But for the kid, [who is] dealing with a lot of big feelings in a new isolated place, it’s a bridge.”
Gletow said that as she watched all the wishes on her website get snapped up, it was as if her own wish had come true overnight.
“Just a few days earlier, I’d been worried about clearing all of those wishes off the website,” she said, adding that the goodness came at a moment when she was mourning the death of a close friend.
Gletow said she was inspired to start One Simple Wish in 2008 after she and her husband became foster parents.
“It was a shock to us how many children were in the foster system and how many were struggling,” she said. “It struck us that this was a group needing a lot of love and support.”
With about 440,000 children in foster care in the United States, the needs are many, Gletow said.
Wishes are now submitted daily to her nonprofit from social workers across the country for current and former foster children, she said.
Once the requests are screened and found to be legitimate, they’re posted on the One Simple Wish website, where anyone can fulfill them.
“These kids get the opportunity through the generosity of strangers to get that little piece of their childhood back that was stolen from them by circumstance,” said Mark Lewis, 31, a former foster child who works as a family advocate in La Porte, Ind.
When Lewis saw the Reddit post last month, he immediately went to the One Simple Wish website and put in wish requests for several of the foster kids he works with, he said.
Redditors paid for one fashion conscious girl to go on a clothes shopping spree and sent a teen who recently came out as gay on a dream trip to the Chicago Pride Parade, Lewis said.
“These two children and so many more like them often enter foster care with nothing,” he said. “Since these wishes are filled anonymously and gifted to the child in a manner that is comfortable for them, it saves them from having to feel different than other kids.”
Kimberly Raff, the founder of a Colorado nonprofit for adults who grew up in foster care, submitted 48 wishes during the Reddit hug on One Simple Wish. Almost all were granted within hours, she said. Wishes included cooking equipment, new bedding, grocery store gift cards and car repairs.
Redditors quickly filled a request for gardening tools and supplies for one of Raff’s clients, Ashley Shannon, 31, of Fruita, Colo.
“It’s hard when you’re taken out of your biological home — it has an effect on you throughout your life,” Shannon said. “It made me feel special that someone wanted me to have something nice for myself.”
Alexis Butler, a single mom from Grand Junction, Colo., who was in foster care herself as a child, was thrilled to receive a playtime mat for her 2-month-old son, Charlie, and new curtains and sheets for a younger sister in her custody.
“I’ve been on my own since I was 17, and it’s hard for me to ask for something for myself,” said Butler, 24.
Ultimately, she decided to put in a wish for a computer lap desk, she said, so she wouldn’t have to jostle with her sister for space at the kitchen table.
Gletow said she’ll be forever grateful that a single Reddit comment helped raise awareness about kids in foster care.
“For people who grew up in a traditional family, the love isn’t cut off when you’re 18 or 21,” she said. “But for kids who ‘age out’ of foster care, there is no safety net. They’re on their own. It’s wonderful that people are now seeing the tremendous need that’s there.”
Someday, she’d like to meet the Redditor who posted about buying a bicycle for a child and sparked a movement, she said. She’d like to return the hug.
“I don’t want to give him a ‘hug of death,’ ” Gletow said. “I want to give him and everyone who granted all of these wishes the longest hug ever.”