Wow, this would require lots of brainstorming and some creativity on my part. Dylan wanted to actually give them something. How could we possibly thank all of the zookeepers in person and give them a token of appreciation? Dylan had some great ideas, but I needed to fine tune them and figure out a way to keep the cost down. Thanks to Pinterest I found my answers and we started making some little gifts.
With mailing labels and washi tape that I had at home, we made some cute labels that we could attach to individual size m&m bags. In no time at all we had 75 gifts for zookeepers - and all for under $10.
Now the trick was getting the candy to the zookeepers. I knew we would see a few here and there, but often the keepers are behind the scenes.
Ironically, my friend Nicki let me know that there was an ice cream social planned for all the zookeepers on the same day we were planning on being at the San Diego Zoo. This was our lucky day!
When we first arrived at the zoo, we had a plan to visit some places we knew keepers would be. First stop was the Children's Zoo. The reaction I witnessed from one keeper when Dylan handed her the small bag of m&m's was priceless. She then proceeded to take us around her area, making sure that we saw each zookeeper working that day.
Soon after, another friend who was not working that day shared a Facebook post with me via twitter. It said, "So a young boy, probably 10 or 11, came to my area of the zoo and passed out personal size m&m's to all the keepers. There was a note that said happy national zookeeper week and thank you for all you do. It's amazing how something so small can cause such a big impact!! It just made me realize that we are making an impact on people. I love my job!!!" I almost started crying right then and there.
I also found out that one of the zookeepers has a picture of her and Dylan on her locker as a reminder that she is making a difference. There were several more posts like this that I saw when I got home and some Instagram pics as well. This was not the reaction I expected.
Nicki walked Dylan around to each table and introduced him to the zookeepers. She told them about his philanthropy work and how he wanted to be a zookeeper at the San Diego Zoo when he was older. Some recognized him and gave handshakes or hugs, others simply appreciated the gift and smiled.
Aside from thanking the keepers, Dylan had the opportunity to meet some people face to face that he only knew through email. Meeting Aimee (a tiger keeper) and seeing Julian again may have been the highlight of this event for Dylan. The ice cream social was put on by the San Diego American Association of Zoo Keepers and they shared a lovely post about Dylan with some pictures on their Facebook page too.
Overall, the day was a success and we accomplished our mission of thanking as many zookeepers as possible in person. Seeing the smiles of so many zookeepers was awesome, but to be honest, it saddened me that they were so shocked by his small gift. These men and women work hard, and not in cushy offices, but out in the heat and rain, to care for the animals that we often take for granted. It made me realize that thanks need to be given more often. Dylan's wish to thank zookeepers taught both of us a valuable lesson - It really is the thought that counts and not the gift itself.
Thank you to all of the wonderful zookeepers for doing what you love!