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People Are Awesome: Using Reddit to Crowdsource Gifts for a Dying Man

When Sean O'Connor asked fellow Redditors to send letters to his dying uncle, he had no idea how many people would respond.

Reddit has been taking flack lately because some of its members have apparently used the site to encourage suicidal people to kill themselves. Stories like that make it easy to forget that anonymous crowds on the internet can often be used for good, too.

A month ago, Reddit user Sean O'Connor asked a favor of his fellow Redditors. O'Connor's uncle, Scott Widak, is 47 years old and afflicted with Down syndrome and terminal liver disease. Wanting to make his uncle's dwindling time as special as possible, O'Connor requested that the Reddit community do one simple thing: Send mail. "[My uncle] is currently bedridden and living out his last days at home with my 85-year-old grandmother," O'Connor wrote. "One of his favorite things to do is open mail… anyone feel like sending him a letter or card?"

Within a few hours, hundreds of people had commented on O'Connor's original post and were forwarding the P.O. Box address he'd included to their friends and colleagues. Soon after that, the mail started rolling in. Widak, who lives in Massachusetts, has received several hundred letters, gifts, and other pieces of encouragement (one person sent a Macho Man Randy Savage mask after O'Connor disclosed that his uncle loves the Macho Man). The mail has come from as far away as Sweden, Finland, Japan, and Australia, and more turns up daily. Even corporations have joined in the giving: Sony Music sent Widak 15 CDs and concert DVDs, most of which were by Widak's favorite artist, Johnny Cash.

"The mail that’s arrived has all been extremely positive and thoughtful," O'Connor told Mashable. "My family and I are amazed at how so many strangers could come together for a random act of kindness."

If you'd like to send some mail to Widak, address it to Scott Widak (C/O Sherry Widak), PO Box 551, Norton, MA, 02766. Besides the Macho Man and Johnny Cash, Widak also likes to make art, so art supplies are a recommended gift.

Photo via Sean O'Connor

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