December 23, 2020

Neighbors Kindness Project Moves Into Holiday Pop-Up Gift Stores Phase

POP-UP GIFT STORE: Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert visited the Neighbors’ Gift Store on South Tulane Street, an initiative expanding on the Mr. Rogers’ Neighbors Kindness Project, which supports families in need and local businesses and encourages solidarity and kindness in the community. Pictured, from left, are Lempert, volunteer Emily Tino, project founder and leader Blair Miller, and team mascot Anna Magdalena Bach. (Photo courtesy of Blair Miller)

By Donald Gilpin

Mr. Rogers’ Neighbors Kindness Project wants you to know that there’s still time to buy an original holiday gift, and it comes with an additional incentive to support local families in need, to help Princeton businesses, and to encourage solidarity and kindness in the community.

Blair Miller has expanded her Neighbors Kindness Project, founded last spring in response to the early challenges of the pandemic, with a Neighbors’ Gift Basket initiative. 

Last-minute shoppers can order pre-packaged gift baskets with local goods online at and arrange to pick them up at any one of three pop-up stores located at 14 South Tulane Street, 11 Hulfish Street, and in the Princeton Shopping Center next to Concord Pet Foods. At the time of purchase they can add on a Neighbors’ Gift Basket for an anonymous local resident in need.

“It’s a wonderful, thoughtful initiative,” said Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, who was one of the first customers to visit the pop-up gift store on South Tulane Street during its first weekend in operation. “Blair was brilliant in thinking about the challenges and putting it together.”

Lempert pointed out how this project serves the community during the pandemic, as many retailers face difficulties with social distancing restrictions and fewer customers. “Shoppers want to figure out a way to do holiday shopping safely, to support businesses, and to support neighbors in the community,” she added. “This is a way to do all three things.”

All three pop-up stores will also be open for contactless in-person purchases on the next two weekends, through January 3, Friday through Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.

Some of the businesses involved in furnishing the gift baskets include Jammin’ Crepes, The Bent Spoon, Small World Coffee, Sakrid Coffee Roasters, Limelite, Highbar Boutique, Homestead Princeton, Ralph Lauren, Princeton University Art Museum Store, Milk and Cookies, Kilwins, La Mezzaluna, Olives, Labyrinth Books, Hinkson’s, and many more.

“It’s a stressful time of year,” Miller said. “Everybody’s working from home and they want to support local businesses, but they want to follow CDC guidelines and they don’t want to wait in line. Rather than wait in line outside Ralph Lauren to buy Ralph Lauren scarves, we’re bringing Ralph Lauren scarves to pop-up shops in town and pre-packaging gift baskets full of goods from our local businesses.”

Miller founded the Mr. Rogers’ Neighbors Kindness Project last April as the impact of the pandemic was mounting in Princeton. She established the Free Store/Tienda Gratis, originally at Studio Hillier and now at Mount Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church at 170 Witherspoon Street, as a way to support struggling neighbors and participating restaurants and other businesses each time a customer orders takeout, shops at McCaffrey’s, or purchases books or toys.

The program encourages patrons of local restaurants to add extra meals or other items to their orders. These orders are then delivered to the Free Store/Tienda Gratis at Mt. Pisgah for distribution on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from noon to 1 p.m.

Miller described how the program expanded rapidly and is now serving about 85 people each day with increased offerings, a growing list of neighbors, and “an amazing team of 35 volunteers.”

She is currently promoting a new initiative based on the same “win-win-win” philosophy that has proved so successful over the past eight months in helping needy neighbors, supporting local businesses, and providing a way for local residents to help others in the community who are struggling.

“One of the most exciting offerings is called ‘neighbors’ wishes,’ where those in need can request a wish when they come to us for meals or other needs,” she said. “A lot of neighbors have babies and they don’t have the ability to buy items that their children need. We get the name of the child and the age and what they’re looking for and we put the information on cork boards around town.”

Miller continued, “At jaZams, for example, as you walk in you see a cork board that says ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighbors,’ and you can take one of those wishes from the cork board and fulfill it. So the child is happy and jaZams is happy because instead of buying just one toy for your family, you can add as many toys as you like for someone in need.”

Miller has been working 16-hour days, constantly looking to augment the impact of the Mr. Rogers’ Neighbors Kindness Project in pursuing her mission and the goals of support, connection, and kindness.

The project website is a work in progress, with plans for developing more categories and choices for shoppers and for meeting growing needs of Princeton neighbors, Miller said.  The Neighbors’ Gift Store will continue to have an online presence after the end of the holiday season, and the  Free Store/Tienda Gratis will continue to serve hundreds of hungry local residents, as the offerings continue to increase.

Miller described the “amazing community effort” that “really connects the community.” She added, “It’s been wonderful, amazing how you have an idea, you believe in it, and other people believe in it, and we work together to get it done.”