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TESS VIGELAND: Folks giving through Kiva and other microlending Web sites eventually expect to get their money back. But plenty of people are looking to help without expecting anything in return. If you've ever offered financial assistance to friends or family, you know how hard it is to push through the "Oh no, I can't take money from you" part of the process.
Lisa Napoli tells us there's a new way to give anonymously to friends and family who need help, but are too proud to accept it from someone they know.
Lisa Napoli: Lionel Thompson and his wife Misha know well what it's like to be strapped for cash and unable to pay the bills. And to be on the receiving end of unexpected generosity.
Lionel Thompson: One time, one of our neighbors gave us a $1,000 to pay our rent. We went through real difficult economic time and it lasted for at least a year. But we had neighbors that got to know us, that really came and they helped us.
Once they stabilized financially, Lionel and his wife made a pact: They'd make it possible for people to give money to friends who needed it, without the awkwardness of a face-to-face exchange. So, with the help of some web designers, they built and run the web site they call Giving Anonymously, where you can do just what the name suggests.
Jessica: Thank you to whoever sent this. I really appreciate your help.
This woman named Jessica got an unexpected $150 in the mail to help her and her kids. She called the Giving Anonymously phone line to leave a message of thanks.
Jessica: I went shopping and filled the house with the produce and other food staples that may be have kind of been put off or neglected lately. I wish I could thank you in person, but whoever you are, you obviously know me well enough to know I probably wouldn't be accepting this from you.
Here's how Giving Anonymously works. You enter contact information about the person you want to help and how much you want to give. Then you enter your credit card information.
Giving Anonymously cuts a check and sends it to your friend. They're asked to leave a voicemail that's forwarded to the donor to verify that the gift was received.
Mike: We were very surprised and touched.
Mike and his family in Texas lost nearly everything in a hurricane and haven't been able to return home. He received a check for close to $1,800.
MIKE: We intend to spend the money on things that we use daily so that we can constantly be reminded about how fortunate we are to have such wonderful friends.
Thompson: That little act of kindness, that we were able to facilitate, was a real encouragement for that family there.
Lionel Thompson says he hears that all the time from people who receive gifts. They're so curious about which of the people they know could have sent them money that they're extra nice to everyone around them.
Thompson says for the donors, this is different than sending a check to your favorite nonprofit organization.
Thompson: We're not the charity, you're the charity. Look around to your friends and family members in need, and you give to them.
Thompson says he and his wife Misha get very emotional when they listen to the voicemail thank yous, like this message from a mom named Crystal.
Crystal: I received $300. And my thank you message is. This is so wonderful. I just sat in the pharmacy line picking up my daughter's $300 prescription. Thank you so much.
Giving Anonymously is an all-volunteer project. The Thompsons and the web company they work with all donate their time to make it possible. It's their way of acknowledging the kindness they themselves have received.
I'm Lisa Napoli for Marketplace Money.