Surprise gifts aim to cheer up downtown

Public safety guides are handing out free gifts, coupons


Whether it's a harried businessman caught in a downpour without an umbrella, a family standing on the corner with a bunch of tired kids, or someone eating lunch on a park bench - all are now fair targets for the Downtown Partnership's newest mission: spreading cheer with random acts of kindness.

Armed with hospitality bags, which like Santa's are packed with goodies, the organizations 45 paid public safety guides are on the hunt for people who look like they could use a surprise gift.

Downtown merchants and attractions have donated thousands of dollars in coupons for free or discounted food, drinks, merchandise and tickets to the National Aquarium and other sites.

"Life is fast-paced and complicated," said Michael Evitts, a spokesman for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. "If someone can give you a pleasant reason to break out of your pace, or help you out of a jam, wouldn't you like that?"

About two dozen people have received surprise tokens of Baltimore hospitality so far, Evitts said.

"The response has been, as you might expect, overwhelmingly positive," he said.

Usually, there are no strings attached. But, on Monday, a safety guide had to get creative when she approached a man eating lunch at a park bench on Pratt Street and several people nearby also wanted the free, maroon, Under Armour T-shirt with the Mercantile Tennis Challenge logo that she was offering.

She improvised a quick quiz, asking the location of the Bromo Seltzer Tower and the type of numerals on its clock face.

The man got the shirt, and the safety guide moved on.

"The guides will be looking for people who look like they could use a pick-me-up," Evitts said. "If you can be there in that one moment when people need something and you can provide it, you can make someone's day."

Among the donated items are coupons from the National Aquarium, Baltimore Ravens, B&O Railroad Museum, Baltimore Museum of Industry, Top of the World observation deck at the World Trade Center, 7-Eleven, Dunkin' Donuts, Harborplace and the Gallery. For those rainy days, there are umbrellas from the Maryland Historical Society.

And, in case you ever need to know, the Bromo Seltzer Tower is on West Lombard Street. And there are no numerals on the clock face - in their place are the 12 letters that spell "Bromo Seltzer."

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