Acts of Kindness 2002

Hometown Heroes, People
on December 22, 2002

When American Profile asked readers to tell us about acts of kindness—both given and received—our mailbox overflowed with examples of the generous human spirit. Jeffrey Fluck of Knightdale, N.C., said it best in his letter, which appears below: “There are truly compassionate people in the world, and we must strive to pass it on to others.”

Mailbox magic
Times got tough for James L. Haas nearly 25 years ago when he became a single father of two—a 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. “Pork and beans on toast was not an unusual meal,” he says, “but we worked together to make the best of the situation.”

Christmas was coming, but the little family knew they would have to make do with what they had. All that changed with a trip to the mailbox one November day.

“Our mailbox contained an envelope with no stamp and just the name, ‘Jim.’ Inside were five $20 bills wrapped in tablet paper and no hint of who had left it there. I was speechless. So much money at this time was more than I could understand,” says Haas, now of Hobart, Okla. (pop. 3,997).

The next month, he again found an identical envelope with five $20 bills. “Although I would like to know the identity of the giver or givers, I have had the mystery and gratitude to hold on to for all these years,” Haas says. “The experience, too, has made me more generous in helping others now that time has relieved the burden of many years ago.”

Flower power
Maggie Graney of Avon, Ind., (pop. 6,248) was in her early 20s and living on her own for the first time—and feeling a bit homesick. One day, during her lunch break from a family-owned department store in California, she sat on a patch of grass across from the store.

“I must have been looking very sad and lonely, because when I looked up, a gentleman I did not know was walking toward me with a bouquet of flowers he had purchased from the street-side flower cart just a block away,” she says.

“He handed them to me without saying a word, then turned and walked away,” she says. “I never saw the man again, but the kindness he showed toward me when I needed it most still touches me 20 years later and will never be forgotten.”

Shouldering the load
Jeffrey Fluck of Knightdale, N.C., (pop. 5,958) traveled to Lubbock, Texas, last year to help his son, Jonathan, get settled into his new home. After buying a sleeper sofa from a department store, they realized it wouldn’t fit into the car. “We sat in the parking lot trying to figure out what to do,” Fluck says.

Johnny Perez, pastor of the Church of the Blessed in Lubbock, who had parked his pickup truck nearby, noticed the sofa dilemma and offered to transport it for them.

“We accepted his generosity, and he even helped load and unload the sofa. I tried to pay him something for his efforts, but he declined. I then tried to give him gas money; again he refused. He simply wanted me to pass on the generosity if I got the opportunity,” Fluck says.

Perez does not realize the act of kindness he provided that day, Fluck says. “Not only did he assist my son with a sofa, he showed my son that there are truly compassionate people in the world, and we must strive to pass it on to others.”

A giving spirit
Years ago, a newly single friend of Beth R. Kiteley of Longmont, Colo., commented she didn’t have money to buy her children a Christmas tree. “I knew she wouldn’t take a handout from me, so I put a $10 bill in a Christmas card and sent it to her anonymously,” Kiteley says.

Unwittingly, Kiteley’s generosity multiplied itself. “She showed me what real generosity is. Next time I saw her, she was so excited. ‘Someone sent us a gift,’ she said. ‘Ten dollars! So I bought a small tree for the kids and gave the other $5 to my friend so she could get one, too.’”

Restaurant rescue
When Mary Beth Lenzini’s daughter was 6, the youngster announced that she would treat her mother to a meal at a newly opened fast food restaurant. “We walked the few blocks together as she proudly clutched her bulging little wallet,” Lenzini says.

After placing their order for hamburgers, fries, and a drink, the bill totaled $5.85. The little girl carefully counted out all her money—which amounted to less than $1 in change. “I should have checked on her finances before, but I hadn’t, and I did not have one cent with me,” says Lenzini of Palmyra, Mo. (pop 3,467).

“To my rescue came another diner who overheard the exchange and swept gallantly forth with, ‘Allow me.’ He saved a special mother/daughter outing with that kind gesture.”

Gift of friendship
Dec. 24, 1961, dawned snowy and cold and Colleen Purves awakened to find the youngest of her six children, Jeff, 9 months, very ill. Her Air Force family recently had transferred to Pease Air Force base in Portsmouth, N.H., from a three-year overseas tour of duty in Japan and Okinawa, and her husband had been sent to a training school for three months.

“I called Dorothy Malcolm, the only person I knew at the time, and told her of my concern. She came right over, told me to take him to the base hospital, and not to worry about anything else,” Purves says.

Purves made the 25-mile drive to the hospital that morning and stayed at the hospital all day while her baby was treated for bronchial pneumonia. Mother and son arrived home exhausted about 9 p.m.

“What I found astonished me beyond words. My children had been bathed and fed and were asleep in their beds. Christmas gifts had been wrapped and placed beneath the tree. The children’s stockings had been filled. My house was immaculate, and a huge pot of homemade soup was simmering on the stove,” says Purves, now of Lander, Wyo. (pop. 6,867).

Dorothy and her husband, Kenneth, of Hampton, N.H., (pop. 14,937) had their own young children and Christmas duties to attend to, but they reached out in a time of crisis, Purves says.

“They gave me a gift that I have treasured for a lifetime—a gift of the real meaning of Christmas,” she says. “This was one magnificent act of kindness toward a very lonely and frightened Air Force wife.”

Cut rate
Sheri Caltrider, an English teacher in Hartsville, S.C. (pop. 7,566) every year asks her high school students to make a daily entry in their journals about an act of kindness they performed the day before. This year, she sent us a sampling of their favorites. These are small acts, but even the smallest are remembered, and their ripples spread endlessly as from a pebble dropped in a pond. One involves Charles W. Luther, 18, who usually cuts grass for about $20, a goodly sum for a teenager, but Luther cut his rate for one customer—a friend of his mother’s—when he learned that her husband had been laid off from his job.

“When I got through with the yard, I went in to tell her I was done,” Luther wrote. “The neighbor handed me a $20 bill,” but the boy refused payment, knowing the family needed every dollar at the moment.

Warm welcome
Lezley Gehman and her 13-month-old daughter were spending their first night in their new home in Sayre, Pa. (pop. 5,813). Her husband and another daughter would arrive the next day.

After a day of unpacking and cleaning, she took her daughter out to dinner at a small local family restaurant. “An elderly couple a few tables away kept waving to my daughter, making faces at her, and playing peek-a-boo. They were not close enough for us to establish a dialogue, but when they got up to leave, they waved goodbye,” Gehman says.

When they finished their meal and Gehman asked for the bill, the waitress told her that the couple had paid it. “I almost cried,” Gehman says. “No one had ever done something as nice as this for me before. That it was our first night in the town that was to become our home made it even more meaningful. I truly felt welcomed to the neighborhood and knew that I was going to like this new place.”

‘Kindest father on Earth’
When Marilyn Sowers’ best childhood friend lost her eyeglasses, the friend’s mother did not have the money to replace them. “I mentioned this in passing to my father, who went to see the optometrist and explained the situation to him,” says Sowers of Goodland, Kan. (pop. 4,948).

The optometrist made another pair of glasses identical to the lost ones. “When the glasses arrived, my father took them to the high school and told the secretary to call my friend to the office and tell her that her glasses had been found,” Sowers recalls.

“My friend never knew the true story and neither did I, until years later the optometrist told me how I had been blessed with the kindest father on Earth—Bob Nelson of Colby, Kan.” (pop. 5,450).