Lorny Pfeifer, the organizer behind a global gift exchange, shows off a set of Medieval-themed coloring books she received from her Secret Santa. (Photo courtesy of Lorny Pfeifer)

A San Francisco resident has renewed excitement for Secret Santa gift exchanges this spring in an effort to offset the dearth of human connection during the worldwide pandemic.

In early January, Lorny Pfeifer, a VC investor and data scientist, had fallen ill with bronchitis and pneumonia while on a business trip to Switzerland. Pfeifer suffers from an autoimmune condition so upon arriving back in the U.S. she began to self quarantine. By mid-March when the shelter-in-place order was issued across California, Pfeifer was already three weeks into her quarantine. 

“I was going stir crazy, I had been making little art works for my neighbors and putting them on my windows,” she said. “I thought, Why don’t we do this for friends in Los Angeles, London, New York, and then why don’t we do this globally?

She created a Google questionnaire asking for people’s interests and skills and shared it with her personal and professional network all over the world. 

“In a span of three days maybe 60 people signed up and they spread the word via Twitter and LinkedIn,” Pfeifer said. “We capped it at 100 people.”

She modeled the gift exchange on the popular Reddit Secret Santa and used a Secret Santa generator to match participants. 

With individuals from over twenty different countries, a wide age range and no one allowed to exchange in person, Pfeifer said participants were very creative with their gifts. 

“One guy wrote a poem for his exchange … another created a digital tour of hiking trails that only a native Idahoan would know about,” she said. “There was even a medical doctor who could tell you anything and everything about the brain.” Other exchanges included dance lessons, a class on artificial intelligence and a session on designing memes.

One participant, Shay Bricker, was matched with a gifted pianist from Vietnam. 

“I have listened to her piano rendition of ‘Ghen Cô Vy’ several times and played it for friends and family as well who have all been so impressed with her talent,” Bricker said.

Pfeifer had planned to launch another gift exchange in early June but considering the tragic events surrounding the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week she has decided to hold off for now. 

“It would just be disrespectful right now,” she said, but added that eventually “I do think it would be awesome to do this again.”