When a popular "mommy blogger" noticed a number of her 7 million monthly readers saying they were struggling to put food on the table, she thought she would try to give a helping hand by providing gift cards to purchase Thanksgiving meal ingredients.
But after raising $116,517 in only a matter of weeks and with 2,122 families waitlisted for grocery gift cards, the Scary Mommy is becoming Santa Mommy just in time for Thanksgiving.
Jill Smokler, 36, used to be a graphic designer until she started the blog ScaryMommy.com about five and a half years ago when her youngest child was an infant.
Smokler, based in Baltimore, then became a New York Times bestselling author with her books, "Confessions of a Scary Mommy" last year and "Motherhood Comes Naturally (And Other Vicious Lies)" in April.
With an official 501(c)3 non-profit, Scary Mommy Nation, she launched an online Thanksgiving drive on Oct. 25, soliciting donations online from her readers and a number of food brands and grocery chains. Based on an estimate that the cost of Thanksgiving dinner is about $50 for 10 people, Scary Mommy is giving applicants on her website $50 gift cards to their local grocery stores so they can buy their Thanksgiving ingredients.
"My goal is to get a $50 grocery store gift card to anyone who needs one," Smokler said.
She has already raised enough funds to provide meals for 1,700 people, but she may have gotten more than she bargained for based on the tremendous need of her readers. The stories of need can be heartbreaking.
"How do you explain to your kids why they're eating cereal and ramen noodles for dinner every day while you don't eat at all?" one reader from Ohio writes.
Smokler is working diligently to match donors with applicants, while asking corporations to help offset her PayPal and shipping fees, which she says "are rapidly adding up."
She says with a smile that she "didn't quite keep that in mind when I promised that 100 percent of the donations would go directly to the families. "
She is waiting for PayPal to approve her nonprofit, which will help bring the fees down to 2.2 percent from 2.9 percent.
After the overwhelming response from applicants, she started contacting shipping companies and other firms, "basically anyone I could think of for help," she said.
"The resounding response was that the companies already had charities they were aligned with and couldn't help on an individual basis," she said.
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She calls the process now "completely overwhelming, but so worth it."
She is hoping her roughly 7 million page views a month or 325,554 Twitter follows will continue their financial generosity so she can provide gift cards for everyone who needs one until Friday, when she will stop taking applications.