Man mailing $5 to strangers to spread good will

Man mailing $5 to strangers to spread good will
SEATTLE -- Daniel Simonton has been sending $5 bills to strangers in the mail.

And in return, he wants nothing.

"Nothing to redeem. Don't have to take it anywhere; just put it in your pocket and go. Cash is honest," he said.

It really is that simple.

"Yes, I mail $5 to completely random strangers," said Simonton, who isn't extravagantly wealthy. "I wish! I am just able to spare $20 a month to give a little drive-by love."

The idea came to the Ocean Shores man while he was walking down Broadway Avenue in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. He "distinctly noticed how a lot of people seemed really cranky."

"I started to wonder when the last time it was someone did anything nice for these people," Simonton said.

So Simonton went to work, trying to come up with an idea to do good for strangers. In the beginning stages, his idea wasn't so simple.

"You don't know the half of it! I used to have a list of 300,000 names," he said. "I work in the tech industry. I wrote a script/program to randomly select names, gave some difficult combinations."

But he ended up abandoning the high-tech approach and choosing an analog method.

"For the sake of ease and fun, I broke it down into something that felt like playing a board game," he said.

These days, his do-goodery starts with a coin toss. He first picks a coin from his bowl of states.

"I have a bowl with all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces," he said. "Heads - male, tails - female."

With the gender and the state already chosen, he logs onto Facebook.

"I go onto my personal Facebook, browse friends of friends 'til I find a surname that sticks with me. I plug that name and state into whitepages.com and try to find a match," Simonton said. "If there's only one, voila. If more than one, toss coin again; heads - keep it, tails move to the next one, repeat."

So far, Simonton has narrowed down three lucky recipients this way, in Carbon Hills, Alabama, Crest Hill, Illinois and Omaha, Nebraska. Each has received a $5 bill encased in a Christmas card with a post office box as the return address.

"I write a little about myself, what I am doing," said Simonton, adding he doesn't want the recipient to feel any obligation. "It's important they know there are no strings ... Yep, $5 bills -- all gimme, no gotcha."

But there is just one gotcha. Simonton is hoping his idea will spread; he wants to get more people in the giving mood.

"There are one of two desired outcomes: one -- the person could really use an extra Lincoln that day and applies it in some way that makes their day a little easier, two -- they have ample money of their own, but may are inspired to pay it forward.

"The idea is doing something nice for someone you wouldn't naturally have a reason to feel compelled to," he said.

Simonton says he's working on a website and "a new phase of the recipient selection that will be a little cleaner and more interactive if I can get enough people interested."

"$5 won't change the world, but it can change someone's world for a day. Give someone something token that is still of value, and they'll remember you for life," he said.

Simonton is hoping to spread word of his grassroots efforts via social media tools. He can be found on Twitter under the handle @fivedollarguy.

Editor's note: The interview for this story was conducted via Twitter. (Read transcript of #twinterview)