Acts of Kindness 2012

Featured Article, Hometown Heroes, People, Traditions
on December 11, 2012
Michael McCollum Zuraida Dutra with firefighting friends in Turlock, Calif.


Each year, “American Profile” invites readers to share stories about compassionate and generous acts of kindness performed by friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and even strangers. Here are some of our favorites this year.

True spirit
After tornadoes tore through Magoffin County in eastern Kentucky on March 2, residents were focused on cleaning up damaged and destroyed homes and businesses instead of cheering for the Magoffin County High School girls basketball team in the state tournament.

Residents of Salyersville (pop. 1,883), the county seat, had been elated about their Lady Hornets’ winning season and second-ever appearance in the state tourney. But few hometown fans were in a position to make the four-hour drive to Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky., less than a week after the twisters hit.

Imagine the players’ surprise when, for their quarterfinal game, the stands behind one goal brimmed with enthusiastic supporters wearing Magoffin County’s maroon, black and white team colors—complete strangers who had adopted the Lady Hornets as their own.

The surrogate fans came from Logan County, Ky., about 220 miles southwest of Magoffin County, and were organized by Logan County girls basketball coach Scot MacAllister, 47. His team’s season was over, but MacAllister got “goose bumps” watching the storm-weary Lady Hornets defeat Ashland 63-59 in their opening game for their first-ever state tournament win.

Inspired by the girls’ gutsy play before a sparse crowd, MacAllister invited the players to his school’s gymnasium in nearby Russellville for an informal practice the next day to prepare for the quarterfinals. When the Lady Hornets arrived, however, they were greeted with an impromptu pep rally—complete with “good luck” signs, pizza, cake and hugs from supportive strangers—staged with the help of 300 Logan County athletes and cheerleaders.

During the game that evening, Logan County students and boosters filled the stands to root on their adopted team.

“It gave us confidence,” says point guard Jamie Castle, 16, of the unexpected support. “It was totally awing.”

The good will continued with tornado relief money donated by members and fans of opposing teams. Though Magoffin County lost 73-59 in the quarterfinal game, the team won the hearts of everyone inside the arena.

“We went home feeling like we were winners and we accomplished something,” Jamie says.

Read more Acts of Kindness

Gift of life
After delivering loads of gravel to Roger Scherr’s farm in Fairbury, Ill. (pop. 3,757), Bryan Aberle couldn’t shake the skeleton-like appearance of the 63-year-old soybean and corn farmer who was undergoing dialysis for renal failure.

“That got me to thinking that I wanted him to find a kidney,” says Aberle, 30, who lives with his wife, Lisa, in nearby Chatsworth. “So I prayed for him, and I realized that for him to get a kidney, either somebody dies or somebody gives one as a live donor.”

“I believe God put the thought in my mind [to be the donor],” says Aberle, who had two healthy kidneys but needed only one.

The men were a near-perfect donor-recipient match, and the organ transplant took place on July 18, 2011.

Aberle’s donation “was a total act of kindness,” says Scherr’s wife, Marcia, 63, who marvels that Aberle was little more than an acquaintance when he decided to give her husband the gift of life. Today, the two men are buddies.

“He is young in age, but very wise in compassion,” Marcia says of Aberle.

Locks of love
When 5-year-old Gianna D’Emilio watched a television show about a girl her age who is bald due to a rare genetic condition, she couldn’t forget the child’s response when asked if she could have anything in the world.

“I just want hair,” the little girl said.

After some thought, Gianna, of Ridgefield, Wash. (pop. 4,763), decided she could help. So she donated 10 inches of her long brown tresses to Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that fashions hairpieces for ill children out of donated human hair.

Her grandmother is especially proud because she knows that Gianna’s act of kindness represents a heartfelt sacrifice.

“She loves her hair,” says Nancy Stratton, 64, of La Center, Wash. “Gianna’s a girly girl. She’s frilly and fluffy and ribbons and all of that stuff.”

Now 7 and a second-grader at La Center Elementary School, Gianna is watching her hair grow out—but she has a new mission beyond wearing ribbons and curls.

“I’m gonna cut it again,” she says, “[and] help some other kid.”

To the rescue
For Zuraida Dutra, 69, the six-block walk to and from the grocery store in Turlock, Calif. (pop. 68,549), is a regular challenge.

“I have diabetes and I have Parkinson’s [disease],” says the Portuguese native, who is unable to drive a car, has no immediate family and is a retired chicken-processing plant worker.

One day as she struggled to carry her groceries home on foot, she noticed a fire engine following her. Inside were Capt. Frank Saldivar, 51; Capt. Chad Hackett, 29; and firefighter Cameron Kaiser, 25.

“She had three bags,” recalls Saldivar about the day he met Dutra. “She left one behind and carried two, then went back to get that one. She was leapfrogging her groceries all the way to her house.”

While Dutra declined the men’s offer of a lift because she was almost home, they followed along to make sure she arrived safely.

A few days later, the firefighters showed up at her door with a gift. “[It was] the most beautiful shopping cart I ever seen,” says a grateful Dutra.

The firefighters purchased the cart from their “Acts of Kindness” fund established with their own money. “The firemen are the eyes and ears of the community,” Saldivar explains, “and if they see someone in need, that’s what the fund is for.”

‘You’ve been elfed!’
Picking up the package left last Dec. 16 at the front door of her home in Tunkhannock, Pa. (pop. 1,836), Lynne Hunting momentarily was distracted from a year of health and personal woes.

She had no idea who left the holiday gift—only that an attached typewritten note read “You’ve been elfed!”

“It was heartwarming. I was very touched,” says Hunting, 51, recalling the joyful discovery of the first of 12 small gifts left on her front porch over the next 12 days.

The excitement quickly spread in the Hunting family as her husband, Wayne, 52, and granddaughters Daiza, 6, and Akira, 5, woke up each day in anticipation of the surprise that their elf might leave on their doorstep. The gifts ranged from a candle to a Christmas CD to a loaf of homemade bread, always delighting the grandparents and youngsters.

“[It] gave us something happy to look forward to every morning instead of worrying about our troubles,” says Lynne, who was undergoing treatments for breast cancer while raising her two granddaughters.

The mystery “elf” was revealed on Christmas Eve morning when Lynne, still in her pajamas and grabbing her robe, answered a knock at the front door. Standing on the porch were a dozen people from Tunkhannock United Methodist Church, where her family worships.

“We Wish You a Merry Christmas!” sang the smiling group before handing Lynne a tin of Christmas cookies.

Then, before dispersing, they shouted one last message in unison: “You’ve been elfed!”

Lost cat
After days of looking for Buddy, an orange-and-white housecat lost in the woods during a family camping trip last December, a tearful Debbie Stabile stopped by the Mountain Mercantile shop near Cook Forest, Pa., to ask for help.

She explained that Buddy had slipped out of a harness while on a walk outside of their camp shelter. He was nowhere to be found.

Shopkeepers Suzan Jones, 52, and Jim Eason, 64, promised to be on the lookout as Stabile, 55, and her husband, Richard, 58, returned home to Tarentum, Pa., 70 miles away. The shopkeepers even circulated “lost cat” posters and took daily walks by the couple’s campsite, calling for Buddy and leaving out fresh water and food.

Seven weeks passed, with the Stabiles returning to the woods each weekend to search for their beloved pet, while Debbie secretly worried that “the coyotes got him.”

Then, one wintry day, Jones and Eason spied a furry creature and followed paw prints in the snow to an abandoned house where Buddy had taken up residence. He was thin—having gone from 14 to 7 pounds—but otherwise fine.

The Stabiles were overjoyed—and grateful beyond words. “It showed us that there are still very nice people in the world today,” says Debbie, adding that Buddy is now under “house arrest” back home in Tarentum.

Sourdough bread
Diagnosed with breast cancer and beginning 16 weeks of chemotherapy treatments, Milteen Cartwright received a phone call one day last year from someone she’d never met with a surprising offer.

“Would I mind if she baked me two loaves of sourdough bread and delivered them to me each Wednesday, [for] as long as I was having chemotherapy?” recounts Cartwright, 75, of Cleveland, Tenn., of the question posed by Lydia Atchley, 69, also of Cleveland.

Atchley had learned about the sustaining energy of sourdough bread decades ago while caring for her mother as she underwent chemotherapy treatments that caused her to lose her appetite—and pounds.

“One day when I was baking my sourdough bread, my mother said, ‘I believe I’d eat a whole loaf of that if I could,’” recalls Atchley, who kept baking loaves of love to sustain her mother’s weight and fuel her body throughout her treatments.

Later, Atchley launched her “ministry of sourdough bread” to nourish other chemo patients in Cleveland.

Cartwright is just one of the people she’s met as a result. In addition to delivering two loaves of bread each week, Atchley wrote her new friend encouraging notes and kept her in her prayers.

“I was astonished because I had never met this lady [before she called],” says Cartwright, who now is cancer-free. “A total stranger in the beginning but a friend in the end.”

Check, please!
At Arbor Hills Nursing Center in La Mesa, Calif. (pop. 57,065), wheelchair-bound residents look forward to outings every Thursday to eat lunch, shop and sometimes enjoy a concert in the park.

“It’s the one day of the week that they get out,” says Emily Byerley, 71, one of three volunteers who chaperone the residents on their excursions.

Typically, the residents don’t receive much attention from passersby on their day trips. But one Thursday last year at the Omelette Factory restaurant, one diner took notice.

“After we ate, I went up and asked the server for the bill,” Byerley recalls. “She said, ‘No, the lady who had sat in the corner paid it.’”

Observing the residents’ laughter and caring interaction with their chaperones, the customer had told the server how her own mother had been in a nursing home. In addition to paying for her own lunch, she picked up the tab for the 14 people from Arbor Hills and left with a smile.

“It was a special treat,” Byerley says.