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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

25 Moving Acts of Generosity Proving That Kindness Will Win Over Coronavirus

During challenging times, kindness always wins.

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When tragedy strikes, Americans unite and overcome. Often, that means acts of incredible generosity from those who can to benefit those who need a little extra help in challenging times. Being generous doesn’t always mean spending money, but it can also be giving of your time, talents or other resources to help those in need. These 15 stories below illustrate that during challenging times, kindness always wins.

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A birthday ride to rememberCourtesy Dana Petrou

A birthday ride to remember

Dana Petrou wanted to make her son’s third birthday a memorable one, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. The week prior, she wrote a note to her neighbor with a huge army truck parked in his driveway, asking if he could drive the vehicle to her home for the truck-loving toddler’s big day. Although she and her son often rode their bikes by the vehicle to get a closer look, they’d never met its owner. A few days later, her neighbor, Tim, called to tell her he had received her note, but the tags on his truck were expired. Also, he wasn’t sure if it was driveable. But on the morning of her son’s birthday, the enormous truck rolled up to their home with Tim in the passenger seat and his friend behind the wheel. He hadn’t told Petrou that he is legally blind. She and her son rode around the neighborhood in the front seat of the massive vehicle. “I could not believe the lengths he was willing to go for a little boy he’s never even met,” she told Reader’s Digest. “He made my boy’s day!”

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Terrance Lester (right) and Lecrae Moore on their Love Sinks In missionCourtesy Dani Andujo/Love Beyond Walls

One hand washes the others

When public health officials started telling Americans that hand washing is one of the most powerful weapons against the spread of the coronavirus, Terence Lester wondered, What about the homeless? Lester had been homeless himself for a time as a teenager, and today he runs a nonprofit in Atlanta called Love Beyond Walls that helps raise money for and awareness of homeless people. He knows all too well that in the best of times they are lucky to find a public bathroom that will let them in to wash up occasionally, not to mention several times a day.

Lester’s experience creating temporary shelters with his nonprofit led him to another idea: temporary hand-washing stations, the kind you see at outdoor music festivals. He mentioned the idea to his friend Lecrae Moore, a Grammy-winning Christian rapper, who eagerly donated enough money to buy 15 of the $150 washing stations. They called their project Love Sinks In. “If leaders in this country are asking people to wash their hands, we also have to provide the tools to people living on the margins of society who are more prone to catch and spread the coronavirus,” Lester says.

After its success in Atlanta, the group sent sinks to Birmingham, Alabama; Oakland, California; Columbus, Ohio; and Austin, Texas, where a partner organization installed the sinks in parks and other public spaces, thanks to a $13,000 grant from Google. (In addition to the start-up funds, it costs about $500 a month to keep each sink stocked with soap and clean water.) One Atlanta hand washer, Sam, made sure his gratitude didn’t go unnoticed. He left a note on a sink that said, “Thank you all for not forgetting about us.”

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Captain goes beyond the call of dutyCourtesy Linda Heimbuck

A captain goes beyond the call of duty

Captain Janell could simply clock in and out of her job with the Newton, Iowa, Salvation Army and still be doing more than most to help those in need. Instead, once the clock stops, she kicks into high gear. One day, she’s delivering goody bags filled with activity pages, candy and toys to children, along with words of encouragement. The next day, she’s surprising a neighbor with freshly baked cookies. Before the outbreak, she created “Sally’s Kids,” a Wednesday evening dinner and program for kids, and “Family Night,” an opportunity for families to gather at the Salvation Army on Monday nights for food and fellowship. “Captain is much loved by everyone in our community,” Linda Heimbuck told Reader’s Digest. “We all know we can count on her.”

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three photos of teddy bears placed around a neighborhoodCourtesy Dianne Aiello Gardner, Courtesy Stephanie Rose, Courtesy Mark Silva

Teddy bears to the rescue

Some of the most dispiriting victims of the virus were the nation’s schools. Education. Friendships. Recess. All put on hold, with parents filling in the gaps.

Math class in the kitchen was hard, but managing the downtime was perhaps harder as the weather turned warmer and children everywhere hungered for fresh air and adventure.

Enter the Teddy Bear Hunt. One day, bears seemed to be hiding every­where: staring out of windows in Iowa, tucked onto porches in Maine, propped behind the steering wheels of parked cars in California. Some even turned up in New Zealand. Teddy bears can’t walk on their own, of course. They got there with the help of people who hoped that spotting a furry friend or two would entertain the neighborhood children. It was a worldwide scavenger hunt.

No one really knows where it started, though the 1989 children’s book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt was clearly an inspiration. (As it happens, the book’s author, Michael Rosen, suspected he had contracted ­COVID-19.) But to grateful parents, the real source didn’t matter.
“To the parent (it’s gotta be a parent) who came up with this idea, THANK YOU,” one mom tweeted. “Explaining to a four-year-old why playdates aren’t allowed anymore is heartbreaking, so ‘going on a bear hunt’ during our walks is the distraction we needed.”

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Take-a-toilet-paper,-leave-a-toilet-paperCourtesy Cathy Maher

Take a toilet paper, leave a toilet paper

At the start of the stay-at-home order, Michael Maher discussed with his two daughters the ways they could help those who wouldn’t have access to basic necessities. He, along with Kaitlyn, 24, and Maddison, 11, implemented a plan. They raided their pantry, packed up three folding tables and headed to an area park in Garden Grove, California. Each day, they fill the tables with canned and dried goods, paper towels, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, wipes, books, games and puzzles, among other items. Maddison created posters to hang behind the table that read “If U Need It Take It“ and “If you have it share it.” They set up at 9 a.m. and stay until 6 p.m. The next day, they’re ready to give donations to those needing assistance and receive items from others eager to share.

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dr. jessica herrickCourtesy Greg Herrick

Hero doctor gets thanks from neighbors

As an infectious disease specialist, Dr. Jesica Herrick works not only with her patients but also with physicians who have become ill. She teaches infection control to the staff of a downtown hotel where homeless COVID-19 patients are housed and nurses are trained from around the country who have volunteered to help in Chicago. One night, when Dr. Herrick arrived home from another long shift at work, she found a note on her door signed by her Glenview, Illinois, neighbors. Along with their messages of thanks was a gift card to Grubhub.

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Landlord Clay Young from Jonesboro, Arkansas, speaks during a “Presidential Recognition Ceremony” where the President recognized several individuals for their work in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

The rent’s on me

Clay Young could see the clouds gathering in late February. That was when Young, who owns more than 30 restored historical buildings in Jonesboro, Arkansas, got a call from one of his tenants, a restaurateur. Could Young hold off cashing the next month’s rent check for a while? Business was falling apart. Young quickly obliged, then wondered what would happen with the other five restaurants housed in his buildings. Even though he knew that he’d take a financial gut punch, Young called them all to say that April was going to be rent-free. “Pay your employees and take care of your family,” he posted on Facebook. “We will get through this together!”

Young says he lost 20 percent of his total rent income that month, but the morale boost he gave the ­community—and himself—was worth every penny. “I needed some good news, selfishly,” he says.

Before long, landlords around the country got the same idea. David Placek, who has 12 commercial and residential tenants in Montclair, New Jersey, gave them all a three-month rent holiday. Governor Phil Murphy was so impressed, he gave Placek a shout-out at a press conference. “­David exemplifies the spirit we need to see right now, of people stepping up to make sure others can come out of this emergency stronger, and so we all come out of this stronger,” Murphy said. “Hats off, David.”

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The thousand-cookie marathonCourtesy Neal Kloiber

The thousand-cookie marathon

If there is a record for the most cookies baked in two days, Neal Kloiber may have broken it. The self-described home baker from Reading, Pennsylvania, responded to a call from a local nursing home. They were requesting snacks other than pizza to provide to their nursing staff. By the end of his marathon baking session, from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 pm each day, Kloiber made 1,000 cookies for donation to two nursing homes. His desire to help goes back to his mother, father, two sisters, and three brothers working at one time or another in nursing facilities. “It took me three days just to find all the supplies I needed to bake,” said Kloiber. “But I loved every minute of it.”

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Charlotte and Christine Gianni posing behind their sewing machine and a spread of their home made masksCourtesy Elaine Fleming

Mother and daughter, mask crusaders

The coronavirus put Christine Gianni and her mother Charlotte’s housekeeping business on hold. Rather than idly wait to go back to work, the two began sewing masks and making them available at no charge to their Tiverton, Rhode Island community, and the surrounding communities. Each time they share a post about a new batch of masks, they are quickly claimed. At last count, the two have produced and distributed over 2,000 masks. “ I’m just so proud of my neighbors and friends and how they reached out,” Elaine Fleming told Reader’s Digest.

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sticky note hearts on the windowsCourtesy Nick Munro

Opening their hearts

It was the simplest of gestures. Seeing people walking by his San Francisco apartment but unable to go outside himself, Nick Munro took a bunch of colorful sticky notes and arranged them in the shape of a heart on his living room window. Half an hour later, the neighbors across the street responded with a sticky note heart of their own. Then another neighbor did the same. Then another. And another. Surprised and delighted, Munro shared his block’s emotional outpouring on, and within two days, people all across San Francisco had joined in. He even met his neighbors across the street for the first time. The hearts drew them onto their balconies, and a new friendship began. “It’s so weird to be separated from all these people,” Munro told Reader’s Digest, “yet we’re all in it together.”

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Food pantry just for petsCourtesy Heather Campbell

Food pantry just for pets

Heather Campbell, the owner of Bow Wow & Woofs, a local healthy dog store in Blaine, Washington, has consistently donated pet food to her local food bank. Determined to reach additional pet owners and provide pet food more days a week, she started the Mr. Kerry Pet Pantry for Pets in Need. She named her project after her late Cairn Terrier. Every day she wheels out a pantry filled with dog and cat foods for people to take, no questions asked. Her only request is that they take only what they need. In a short amount of time, Mr. Kerry’s Pet Pantry has given away over 400 lbs of pet food. Can dogs get coronavirus?

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A master of two skills teaches them bothCourtesy Anne Gahagan

A master of two skills teaches them both

Marcus C. Thomas was asked by the founder of Additional Needs, Inc. to create a painting tutorial for children and adults with additional needs. The artist broke his neck in a snow skiing accident when he was 26 years old, leaving him paralyzed from the shoulders down. Thomas creates beautiful paintings using a plastic tube with a paintbrush attached. He wanted to give back and to give hope to others, so he accepted the organization’s challenge. His sister-in-law filmed the instructional video from Thomas’s Weaverville, North Carolina, home, and he enlisted his nephew to handle the editing. “Of course, you don’t have to paint with your mouth,” the artist advised on his website, “but if you want to try….”

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Yanira Soriano holding her new son Walter, surrounded by doctors and nursesCourtesy Southside Hospital

Perfect delivery

Yanira Soriano arrived at the hospital with COVID-19 and a severe case of pneumonia—and a baby due in less than a month. “She was very scared. You could see it in her eyes. It was the most horrible thing,” says Gina Murza, MD, the chief of neonatology at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, New York. With two lives hanging in the balance, the doctors knew they had to act immediately. Within hours, they put 36-year-old Yanira on a ventilator. The next day, they put her in a medically induced coma in preparation for a cesarean section, but not before she extracted a pledge from the staff. “She thought she was going to die,” nurse Ebony Marshall told WPIX-TV. “She just asked us to promise to try to save her baby.”

And they did. Baby Walter was born happy and healthy on April 3. But his mother’s condition was still dire. She remained on a ventilator. Then, 11 days after entering the hospital, she improved enough to breathe on her own. The elated staff, now equal parts medical professionals and surrogate godparents, could not contain their joy. When Yanira’s husband, Walter Soriano Sr., arrived on April 15 to collect his wife and introduce her to the baby she had never seen, health-care workers and balloons lined the long hospital hallways to watch as she was wheeled outside. They cheered so loudly that you wouldn’t have known they were all wearing surgical masks. “Oh my God. I’m so happy!” Marshall said. “It makes me feel like everything I do is worth it.”

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Halloween-comes-early-this-yearCourtesy Catalina Maddox-Wagers

Halloween comes early this year

Halloween is still several months away, but that didn’t stop a group of fun-loving friends from pulling costumes out of their closets. Late one Sunday afternoon, a unicorn, sumo wrestler, dinosaur, shark, a giraffe, and a host of familiar characters paraded through a Cleveland Heights, Ohio, neighborhood. The group wanted to bring a splash of color to the neighborhood and provide their neighbors with a distraction from the coronavirus. The uninhibited residents danced, cheered, and took pictures with bystanders encouraging their efforts. “Seeing them just clonking around in their costumes was exactly what our neighborhood needed,” Cataline Maddox-Wagers told Reader’s Digest.

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receipt for large tipCourtesy Nick Galvan

The restaurant-size tip

Louis Galvan had just wrapped up a takeout order and was clearing off table 411, where a couple of his most loyal customers had finished dinner. Like most restaurants, Irma’s Southwest was hurting. Located a block from the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park, Galvan’s eatery had just staffed up for the baseball season. More than 30 of his employees were counting on a big opening day that would never come.

In the days before the governor closed his state’s restaurants, Galvan was especially grateful for regulars such as the ones at table 411. That night, they had ordered about $90 worth of food. But it was the tip they’d left behind that blew him away. Actually, it was two tips. One was $1,900 in cash. The other, written on the credit card receipt, was $7,500. The couple also left a handwritten note on the receipt: “Hold to pay your guys over the next few weeks. TY.”

“I wasn’t sure if we were going to stay open, but knowing you have somebody like that, a regular client pulling for you and your staff, we’re going to keep going,” said Galvan. He split the money equally among the employees, so everyone got about $300. What’s more, Galvan could now pay the tip forward. “If there’s anyone who does not have food to eat, or just needs a glass of water, they are welcome to come by,” Galvan said. “We are here for our community.”

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Mystery donor pays for every seniors’ groceries

One morning, Alicia Mercik’s husband slipped out of the house early to reach the grocery store in time for the senior shopping hour. After he unloaded his cart and the last item was scanned, the cashier refused to let him pay. She explained that an anonymous donor had purchased gift cards for seniors at the Linglestown, Pennsylvania store. Mercik was convinced that either she was joking or he was taking part in a TV-show prank. He even asked her where they had positioned the camera. The cashier assured him that his bill was covered and he left the store with $143 worth of groceries. “It brightened a lot of peoples’ day,” Alicia told Reader’s Digest. “Thank you to our anonymous friend.”

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portraits of families on their doorstepsCourtesy Nathaniel Edmunds Photography (3)

Photographic memories

What does American life look like when nobody can leave the house? Photographer Nathaniel Edmunds and his sister, Tiffany Stoner, aimed to find out. They spent weeks driving their trucks around central Indiana to photograph families on their doorsteps, in their Sunday best or in their pajamas. In the middle of a quarantine, it was hard not to despair. But Edmunds and Stoner saw something inspiring.

“Our grandparents remember the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Our parents remember where they were when JFK was assassinated. We remember the day the twin towers collapsed. Our children will remember the pandemic that led to a global quarantine,” Stoner says. “What all of these moments have in common is that people became reconnected in the midst of a crisis. Families came together. They loved more. They appreciated more. They found their way back to simplicity and togetherness by tragedy. Nothing glamorous. In their pajamas or comfy clothes. Showered or unshowered. Holding a news­paper. Eating a piece of toast. But holding tight to the people they loved the very most.”

After driving around taking many doorstep photos the pair ended up raising over $7,000 for the largest food bank in Indiana.

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Neighbors become familyCourtesy Norma Nelson

Neighbors become family

Most of Norma Nelson’s friends had moved out of her neighborhood in Mt. Carmel, Ohio. With no children at home, she kept to herself and didn’t bother making new friends. Then the pandemic hit and a few neighbors began stopping by to check on her. She loves flowers and prides herself on taking good care of her yard, but after hip replacement surgery, she couldn’t keep up with the maintenance. A family came over and helped her clean up her flower beds and mow her lawn. The husband continues to mow her yard once a week. Nelson told Reader’s Digest, “ I now feel like I have a newfound family!” Coronavirus guide: How to keep your family safe and make the most of together time.

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Miles’s birthday parade

Miles Halishak was psyched for his sixth birthday party. He wanted to dress up as a mad scientist, and his mom was busy making decorations. But about five days before mad scientist Miles was planning to greet 40 friends and relatives at the Hali­shaks’ home in Mogadore, Ohio, social distancing went into effect. “We had bought everything, and it was ready to go, and we had to shut it down,” his mother, Desarae Halishak, told the Record-­Courier. Miles was crushed.

But his parents had an idea. People might not be able to come into the house to say happy birthday, but they could drive by and do it. The Halishaks put a note on the local group asking whether their guests could drop by that Monday—Miles’s actual birthday—and simply wave. One wrote back asking for Miles’s favorite color. Another wanted to know what candy he liked. On Monday, the first birthday car arrived, honking like crazy. Dozens more joined in, many driven by strangers who had read about Miles’s canceled party and wanted to help him celebrate. Some waved birthday signs out their windows. Some had decorated their cars in blue (his favorite color) and threw candy. “I broke down in tears,” says Desarae. “I couldn’t believe how much love we were getting.”

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Diapers for allCourtesy Johanna Gallardo

Diapers for all

Johanna Gallardo is a nurse home visitor for Nurse-Family Partnership in El Paso, TX, a program that serves first-time, low-income expectant mothers. The novel coronavirus has impacted their clients who are struggling to afford diapers, wipes, and other basic needs for their babies. Affiliated with the University Medical Center Foundation, they serve over 125 families. After reaching out to the El Paso community, they received over $2,500 in monetary donations, and an overwhelming amount of diapers, wipes, hygienic supplies and other essential items. “It’s amazing to see how the community has responded,” Gallardo told Reader’s Digest.

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Help One ArtistCourtesy Grace Alfiero

Supporting the arts

A post by Grace Alfiero’s artist friend, a single mom humbly asking for help, inspired Alfiero to provide assistance and encourage others to find ways to help artists affected by the coronavirus. She started by asking her friend if she could pre-pay for a variety of writing projects. Then she filled a few bags of groceries with nonperishable essentials, packed up her car, and, along with her teenage daughter, delivered the items to her colleague’s home. On the ride home, she and her daughter discussed what would happen if every family reached out to one artist and ensured that they were receiving the support they needed. Out of their conversation came the Help One Artist campaign. The goal of the project is to encourage others to pre-pay for artwork or a song, contribute to the purchase of materials, or stock an artist’s pantry with necessary items.

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Chad Butters standing in front of barrels at Eight Oaks Farm DistilleryCourtesy Carly Butters Snyder

To your health

Eight Oaks Farm Distillery in New Tripoli, Pennsylvania, was about to close its doors because of the coronavirus crisis. Then its owners realized they could use the grain they would have fermented for bourbon for another valuable commodity: ethanol, the key ingredient in hand sanitizer. Within two days, owner Chad Butters had devised a way to use his still to create pure ethanol and began churning out bottles of sanitizer by the thousands. He gave them away to hospitals, assisted living centers, and any neighbors who wanted one. The impromptu switch to the sanitizer business also allowed the distillery to keep its 25 workers employed. “We love this community,” Butters posted on Instagram, “and we love you.”

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Charley Adams using a utility truck bucket to visit his mother's third story windowCourtesy Charley Adams

A higher calling

When Franklin Roosevelt was 16 and away at boarding school, he got sick and was quarantined in the infirmary. His mother was so upset at being kept apart from him that she climbed a stepladder outside his window so she could be as close to him as possible. Something similar happened to Charley Adams, only in reverse. When assisted living facilities nationwide realized they would have to turn visitors away to keep their residents safe, Charley was worried that he wouldn’t be able to visit his 80-year-old mother, Julie Adams. Fortunately, Charley owns a tree-care service in Youngstown, Ohio, which means he has a truck with a large extendable arm—long enough to reach his mother’s third-floor window.

“Her spirits were kind of down because she’s used to being able to get out, go places, and do things. And so I just had the idea that I’d bring the bucket truck over,” Charley says. “I called her, and I told her to come look out the window—and there I was.”

The men and women at Miami-Dade Fire Rescue had the same high-flying idea. One of their station mates had been in the hospital because of the virus, and he was becoming pretty depressed. “It gets so isolating in here,” he said in a video later distributed by the department. One morning, a group of Miami-Dade firefighters piled into a truck, drove over to the hospital, and raised the ladder to the unnamed man’s fourth-floor room. Standing at the top of the ladder, a firefighter held a handwritten cardboard sign that said “Your New Firehouse.” “This is love,” the hospitalized man said in the video, between obviously labored breaths. “This is the only kind of love you can get from the brother- and sisterhood at the firehouse. There’s just no other way to explain how this makes me feel.”

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Just one wordCourtesy Andrea Harris

Just one word

In mid-March, Andrea Harris started working from home and decided to set up a daily check-in on Facebook. She asked respondents to share one word describing the way they felt at that moment. Harris understood how difficult it would be to compress feelings into one word, but she knew the value of focusing on how others are handling the crisis. She has posted a one-word check-in for 63 days so far and plans to continue asking others to become part of their online community. She hears from the parents at her son’s school and former colleagues, merging both her personal and business life. When she reads a particularly painful comment, she checks on the person privately to make sure they have what they need and feel supported.

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A special birthday deliveryCourtesy Manuj Singhal

A special birthday delivery

During COVID-19, various celebrations from birthdays to graduations, have been postponed, but likely will be rescheduled. Neelam Singhal, from Overland Park, Kansas, wanted to ensure that a particular group of people, foster children, weren’t forgotten on their birthdays. Over 437,000 children in the United States are in foster care, and more than 127,000 of whom are available for adoption, according to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Recently, she collected boxes, gifts and birthday crowns to help children seeking forever families celebrate their special day. She contacted a local organization and dropped off the gifts.

Lisa Kanarek
Lisa Kanarek is a freelance writer who covers family, relationships, and acts of kindness. Her work has been published in Reader’s Digest, The New York Times and The Washington Post, among other publications. She lives in Dallas, TX. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.