Acts of Kindness 2006

Hometown Heroes, People
on December 23, 2006
Sean Gallagher A good deed landed Jackie Morris (left) a job at McDonald's from Mike Bold, the restaurant's general manager in Alton, Ill.

Each year, American Profile publishes a collection of stories about ordinary people doing remarkable deeds for others without expecting recognition or acknowledgement in return. Here are a few favorites sent in by readers this year:

Saint Santa
Donnie Cain says he is shy by nature, but you’d never know it when he dons a red suit, grows a full white beard and becomes Santa Claus’ No. 1 helper in Seneca, S.C., (pop. 7,652) each Christmas season.

Cain, 55, and his Santa suit stay busy on nights, weekends and even his lunch break—visiting schools, churches, nursing homes, hospitals and businesses—to bring the spirit of Christmas to people ages 1 to 92. He does not accept payment and sometimes uses his vacation time to accommodate all the requests.

“He’s so popular that we have to take appointments to get everyone in,” says his wife, Jean. Cain first portrayed the jolly fellow in 1990 for elderly residents at Seneca Health & Rehab Center, where he is maintenance director, and was hooked by the smiles and laughter that his holiday antics elicited. He says he is equally at ease with children, who “just seem to take to me.”

Betty Jo Moore, of Walhalla, S.C., says Cain is one of the few people who could get her mother to smile when she lived at the Seneca nursing home before her death last year at age 98. “He looks more like the real Santa than the real Santa,” she gushes. “He gets his picture made with everyone, gives them a big hug and a kiss, interacts with both the residents and their families. He truly reflects the spirit of Christmas.”

Guardian angel
Maria Griego doesn’t know his name or where he lives—only that a short, dark-haired, middle-aged stranger with a soothing voice held her hand through her cracked car window while they waited together for an ambulance after a near-fatal crash on a rural road outside of Santa Fe, N.M. The 23-year-old sales associate was driving home from work in November 2005 when an oncoming car pulled in front of her. “I remember my car spinning across the highway and I was injured pretty bad,” she says. “My head hit the windshield and shattered it, and my legs were trapped under the steering column. I was bleeding, and I had glass in my mouth.”

The other car’s driver checked on her, but it was an anonymous passerby who came to her rescue. He called the ambulance and police and, at Maria’s request, used her cell phone to call her parents, who were vacationing in Albuquerque. “I asked this voice if he was a police officer,” recalls Maria’s mom, Martha Griego. “He said, ‘No, but I stopped to help your daughter and I won’t leave ’til I know she’s OK.’”

The stranger was true to his word, and left only as Maria was being put in an ambulance. She suffered severe whiplash, cuts and bruises, but thanks to her seatbelt and months of physical therapy, is OK today.

The whole Griego family still wonders about the stranger’s identity. “We never got to personally thank him, but we consider him our daughter’s guardian angel,” says Martha Griego. “We keep him and his family in our prayers.”

Nature’s medicine
Around Thurston Woods retirement center in Sturgis, Mich. (pop. 11,285), Susan Cook is known as the “flower lady.” The former elementary school teacher motors around in her electric wheelchair placing vases of fresh flowers in the rooms of fellow residents, at the nurses’ stations, on dining room tables—anyplace that could use a little bit of nature’s beauty.

“You go in with a big smile and leave fresh flowers. It’s better than medicine,” says Cook, 65, who doesn’t let her multiple sclerosis overcome her desire to brighten someone’s day. She gets flower donations from friends, grocery stores and, last year, teamed up with retirement center resident Phil Cary, 88, whose family operates a gladiola farm and brought in bucket loads of freshly cut flowers.

“The residents love it,” says nurse Carol Eagan. “These flowers go to a lot of people who are alone. Sometimes it’s the only thing they ever receive.”

Rescued trophies
At 86, Frances Foster was throwing away her garbage when she noticed a pile of trophies in the dumpster of her apartment complex in Washington, Ill. (pop. 10,841). Determined to recycle them, the great-grandmother used the crook of her cane to fish out the trophies one by one, rescuing more than two dozen of the shiny statues.

With the salvaged trophies in her back seat, Foster drove to Central Illinois Riding Therapy, a nonprofit horse riding camp for people of all ages with disabilities. For their shows, the East Peoria group awards its riders refurbished trophies as a cost-cutting measure. She was greeted by a barrage of teenagers and children who unloaded the boxes of trophies. “They were so excited, saying, ‘Look at this one!’ and ‘It’s beautiful!’ I just bawled,” Foster recalls.

Camp director Judith Kruse says trophies are one of the best items people can recycle. “Getting a trophy means a lot to these kids—some of whom can’t ride a bike or do other sports. It means a lot to their parents, too.”

Foster jokingly refers to her November 2005 dumpster encounter as the day she became a “bag lady,” but is proud of the outcome. “I grew up in the Depression in a southern Illinois town, the oldest of six children,” she says. “We learned the hard way about saving and using old things.”

A soldier’s autograph
The Wilson family was vacationing at Disney World when, on a bus ride around the park, 8-year-old twins Drew and Adam found themselves sitting beside a man with a walking cane. As they spoke, the children learned he was wounded as a soldier during the Vietnam War.

“One of my boys asked us for a pen and paper, and then asked the man for his autograph,” says Timothy Wilson of Georgetown, Ohio (pop. 3,691). “We had spent the day surrounded by Disney cartoon characters with hundreds of kids standing in line for their autographs, but this was the autograph that Drew wanted . . . because this man fought in the war. The man, along with my wife and me, were in tears as he proudly signed his name and rank for my boys. One of those proud parent moments!”

A job for Jackie
While munching on his lunch at a McDonald’s restaurant one day in Alton, Ill. (pop. 30,496), Jackie Morris noticed an elderly couple nearby and offered to take their trash to the waste can. “My parents and grandmother taught me to be polite to people,” explains Morris, who suffers from a mental illness and has cared for himself since his parents died in 2001. He didn’t realize anyone noticed his act of kindness until the restaurant’s general manager, Mike Bold, approached to ask if he worked for him. “I said, ‘No, but I’m looking for a job,’” Morris recalls. Bold told him to come back to the restaurant on Friday and they’d fill out the paperwork and, as Morris says, “the rest is history.” The 47-year-old has worked at McDonald’s for three years, sweeping floors, wiping down tables and making sure napkins, straws and lids are stocked on the condiment table.

“When Jackie called to tell me he’d gotten a job offer himself, I was surprised,” says Kelly Schillinger, his job coach at Challenge Unlimited, a nonprofit organization that helps people with disabilities find work. “But when he told me what he did that led to the job, it didn’t surprise me at all, because that’s just Jackie. That’s how he is. He’s a person with a good heart.”

The effects of Morris’ simple goodwill gesture didn’t stop there. Four McDonald’s operated by Bold’s family have since hired 15 other people served by Challenge Unlimited, and Bold has received regional and state awards for his willingness to hire people with disabilities. “It’s been a huge ripple effect,” Schillinger says. “It just shows how a simple act of kindness can affect other people’s lives. Because of Jackie and his kindness, a lot of other people have found jobs, too.

Tell Us About Those Good Deeds
Has someone performed an un-expected act of kindness for you lately? American Profile would like to hear stories about the compassionate acts that readers have experienced in the last year. Post your story on the message boards here on our site or mail a brief letter describing the event, along with your full name, address and telephone number, to: Acts of Kindness, c/o American Profile, 341 Cool Springs Blvd., Suite 400, Franklin, TN 37067.