"People are used to dropping stuff off to a Goodwill," said Miller, 33, president of the software firm AmeriCardGold. "They see these big trash bags, and they just literally dump them. And then some faceless employee just goes through the stuff, and you don't know where it winds up."
Instead, the family turned to WishUponAHero.com, a Web site that allows users to make or grant wishes. There, they found a wish listing made by a Collingswood, N.J.-based woman — under the user name "divaveteran" — who was pregnant with her second child and in need of baby essentials.
"To me, the Web site just represents the eBay of altruism," said Miller. "Instead of connecting buyers and sellers, it connects wishers and heroes."
So one weekend, divaveteran drove to the Millers' home in Mount Laurel, N.J., and Miller loaded the baby products into her car.
For Miller's wife, Lauren, the wish site was a way to carry out tzedakah in a personal way.
"Tzedakah is basically a term for charity and helping others, and this is really, in its purest form, being able to help other people," said Lauren Miller, 34, a teacher. "Nobody knows who you are, and you don't go on there looking for recognition for what you do because nobody knows."
Like the Miller family, hundreds of people are seeing their wishes come true through WishUponAHero. Since it was launched in September, the site has accumulated more than 1,700 members and granted more than 300 wishes out of almost 1,500 requests.
"Everyone can help anyone; that's the big idea," said Dave Girgenti, the founder of Wish-UponAHero. "Everyone is empowered to help. So anyone can be helped."
The creative director of CramerSweeney, an ad agency in Moorestown, N.J., Girgenti was inspired to create the site after seeing images on TV of people trying to find loved ones after Sept. 11.
"I thought that, man, there's got to be a faster way for people to help people or find people," he said. "That was really the beginning of the idea of how do you help people faster. And then, after Hurricane Katrina hit, people needed more than just finding people."
'Extension of Tradition'
Both wishers and granters, from corporate donors to stay-at-home moms, create user names and profiles on the site. Like Aladdin, wish-seekers can only make up to three wishes at once. That could include wishes for money, pizza, trips to DisneyWorld, a cure for cancer — even a husband.
"What an honor and opportunity to be able to respond generously to individual requests for needed money," said Ira Kaminow, the president of Tzedakah, Inc., which provides charity resources through just-tzedakah. org. "Such activities are an electronic, 21st-century extension of the Jewish tradition of warmly welcoming door-to-door solicitors."
For Girgenti, those who respond to ordinary — though sometimes extravagant — wishes are "everyday heroes."
One of these is Bre McGloughlin, who has granted 19 wishes since joining the site in mid-October and is the site's third-highest wish-granter. Using PayPal, or by shopping and shipping items online, McGloughlin has donated socks, a griddle, a school band fee, and a set of sweaters for a mother and daughter.
"I've just had to wean myself off," said McGloughlin, 48, an adoption specialist from Placerville, Calif. "Because I found myself going to the computer four, five times a day just to see what new wishes are there and to read some of the people's stories."
Even if users cannot make financial contributions or purchase products, they can fulfill more abstract hopes, through prayers or e-mail.
Then there are the improbable, yet entertaining, wishes from users like "WriterChick," who is hoping for dinner with actor/director George Clooney.
"When I wish upon a star, I always wish for one thing: to have dinner with George Clooney," WriterChick said in her listing. "His girlfriend can even come, too, as long as she doesn't mind my drooling."
More than 250 people viewed WriterChick's listing, and 16 left her encouraging comments, complimenting her writing style, wishing her luck and agreeing with her love of Clooney.
"You go, girl," wrote one user. "Many of us have the same wish!"
Humorous wishes like those made by WriterChick also make the site a must-read, according to Girgenti.
"There's a fun aspect because it is about wishes," he said. "We don't discriminate. Every wish is a wish. We have stuff on there that's semi-entertaining, but the goal at the end is just to help people."
To achieve that goal, the site allows people to easily search for wishes that are most appealing to them. Users can also directly choose whom they help, said Girgenti, who finds that the site's possibilities are endless.
In the future, he'd like to have a WishUponAHero bus and even bring the organization to television in a format similar to "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."
"Right now, we have people from all 50 states, 17 countries, and we've only been operational for three weeks," attested Girgenti. "What would happen if everyone could just help anyone at any given moment? If everyone knew about this site, you could possibly wipe out poverty."
Still, many of the people using the site have smaller plans — helping in little ways.
"We had the stuff, she needed it; it's a perfect combination," said Lauren Miller. "People who are putting their lives on the line, that's heroic. I'm getting rid of a baby swing. It's about perspective, I guess."