Mystery box shows up in random places to help people thinking about suicide
The blue boxes bear only a graphic of a white anchor. If you found one on the street, it might look like packaging from a store with a nautical theme. But upon lifting upon the lid, you’ll see a message: “This is for you. This is my gift to you. If any of these words describe how you’re feeling, then this box is for you. Lost. Hopeless. Suicidal.”
Ali Borowsky, founder of the small, grassroots nonprofit organization Find Your Anchor, has placed inside the box, among other items, a list of suicide prevention resources, posters with hopeful messages, a deck of cards titled “52+ Reasons to Live,” and a letter.
The note opens with a surprising sentiment: “To the hopeless, the worn-out, and the disenchanted, I love you.”
“I wanted to create something literally showing that strangers care.”
Borowsky, a graphic designer based in southern California and Chicago, says the box’s contents reflect what she desperately wanted to hear when struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts many years ago. Her hope is that someone contemplating suicide will encounter or receive a box and feel encouraged to keep living.
The boxes are meant to be discovered in public places by those who might find them useful, though they can be gifted by a loved one or stranger to someone in need. Instructions urge the recipient to eventually part with the box as a way of helping the next person.
“One of my fundamental core beliefs, in the height of my darkness, was that no one would care,” says Borowsky. “I wanted to create something literally showing that strangers care.”
Borowsky says the boxes have shown up in unexpected places: an ice cream shop, the 6th floor of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and most recently, the U.S.-Mexico border.
Since founding Find Your Anchor several years ago, Borowsky created 1,450 boxes at a cost of $25 each, relying largely on her own bank account and donations. Then last month, The Mighty, a website that addresses mental health topics, covered Borowsky’s efforts and she received more than 4,500 box requests in less than two weeks. She offers the boxes free of charge to those experiencing suicidal thoughts and behavior. The majority of the new requests, she says, came from people expressing a “sense of desperation.”
Daunted by the cost of meeting that demand, Borowsky issued a call for donations, which brought in $22,000, a promising amount that still fell well short of the $110,000 it’ll take to fill every order. She’s appealed to celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres or Oprah Winfrey to swoop in to make up the difference, but she remains dependent on friends, family, and strangers to fund the initiative and volunteer to assemble boxes.
Those who’ve encountered the boxes describe the experience as profound and even life-changing.
Marques Smith, a 35-year-old father of two who lives in Las Vegas, received his box from Maya Enista Smith, executive director of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. The organization promotes the importance of kindness and emotional and mental wellness for young people.
Smith works as a driver and was assigned to pick up Enista Smith while she was on a work trip last year. Their conversation eventually led Smith to talk about his mental health struggles. Struck by his story, she gave him the Find Your Anchor box she’d been carrying, with the hope of delivering it to someone in need.
“The whole concept of having anchors in your life, it made sense,” says Smith. “I have two kids — that’s worth living for. Those are my two anchors.”
“The whole concept of having anchors in your life, it made sense.”
He’s since put one of the posters up in his daughters’ room and another hangs in his garage. He shuffles through the deck of cards, which offer small reminders of life’s joys and pleasures like a smile from a stranger, making unforgettable memories, good food, and new horizons.
Smith says he grew up feeling pressure to hide his mental health experiences, which prevented him from getting help. He appreciates that the box makes it possible for someone who doesn’t want or know how to seek help to explore the possibility through the list of resources.
“It’s a powerful box in my eyes,” he says.
Last July, Franchessca Fallucco found a box in the teen books section of her local library in Stark County, Ohio. Fallucco, now 18, had been anxious about the approaching one-year anniversary of a classmate’s suicide, which was part of a cluster of a dozen youth suicides in the area.
“Just finding that box really helped me to know someone cared,” she says. “I don’t know who left the box, what their intentions were, but I know it was extremely helpful for me. I left it because I wanted to help someone else.”
She did, though, place her own note in the box that read, “You are stronger than you know. Don’t give up — a stranger that cares.”
Fallucco also made her own version of the box to keep at home. Inside, she’s placed a message to keep going, pictures of her family and friends, and a rock that had been painted and shared as an act of kindness. Opening the box buoys Fallucco when she’s feeling down.
In late 2017, before Fallucco found a box at the library, Stark County school officials learned about Find Your Anchor and ordered a total of 200 boxes for students.
While there’s no research on whether a Find Your Anchor box prevents suicide, sociologist Seth Abrutyn understands why receiving one would be an emotional experience.
People struggling with suicidal thoughts or behavior may feel their relationships and social ties have broken down, and that they’ve lost a sense of meaning or purpose in their life, says Abrutyn, an associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia who studies adolescent suicide clusters.
Receiving a box, particularly from a stranger, could restore someone’s hope and faith in their larger community and spur them to try to help others.
“These boxes are like a little touch from the universe.”
“If you believe there are people out there that cared enough to leave this box for you, you might pay it forward,” says Abrutyn.
That’s exactly what Borowsky had in mind when she first envisioned the box.
“These boxes are like a little touch from the universe — this was put here for you, you were meant to receive this,” she says.
“It’s from a stranger who cares, but it’s also [about] paying it forward and passing it on when you’re in a better place.”
If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a list of international resources.