When Colin McGinnis was approached with an offer to purchase Christmas presents for his employees at South Side Early Learning, the CEO thought, “Sure, we'll take some extra hats and gloves.”

The holidays bring with them stories of generosity and cheer, and 2019 was no exception in Central Ohio. Lululemon, the $3.3 billion athletic wear company, set out to be part of it with an act of open-handedness—spearheaded by its team in the Columbus region—that shocked and delighted recipients, arousing grins, tears, and even one surprised curse word. (Here's the video.) 

When Colin McGinnis was approached with an offer to purchase Christmas presents for his employees at South Side Early Learning, the CEO thought, “Sure, we’ll take some extra hats and gloves.” 

A severe underestimation. 

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Lululemon was hooked up with South Side, a nonprofit that is a place to educate low-income preschool-aged children, by a volunteer. When asked for their Christmas wish lists, South Side employees—mostly living paycheck to paycheck and having taken a pay cut to keep the center open—first wrote down presents that weren’t even for them. “It was pretty indicative of my staff and just the kind of work that early childhood educators do,” McGinnis says. They were asked not to hold back about what they wished would be under the tree for them. When Lululemon representatives actually showed up with the gifts, it was a total surprise.

All 36 staff members received gifts—everything from a recliner and a Coach bag, to clearing four months of overdue electric bills, to flight vouchers for a trip to visit family and Green Bay Packers Playoffs tickets. One employee asked for a bowl so her grandchildren could have a place to choose a piece of fruit when they visited. She received the fruit bowl—but she also got family passes to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, coloring books and other activities her grandchildren could do while visiting her.

“It was like the staff at Lulu knew our staff so intimately even though they never interacted,” McGinnis says.  

It was also a gift for Lululemon staff. “We are beyond filled with joy,” says Sheryl Lotts, assistant store manager and community lead, in the video. “Lululemon gives us great opportunities to share with the community and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Chloe Teasley is former staff writer for Columbus CEO.