The Kindness of Strangers

Yesterday, I was feeling kind of frustrated and unhappy because people were being cranky at me for voicing my opinion on Twitter about soda being unhealthy. I know. Why the hell are people cranky at me about something that everyone knows has zero health benefits? And why was that bothering me? Whatever. All I knew was I needed to get offline and go do something positive to cancel out the negative. I wanted to go out and do something kind for a stranger.

A friend of mine suggested going to Target and paying off toys that people had put on layaway for Christmas. This sounded like the perfect idea so I threw on my shoes and went straight to a Target. After speaking with the manager and their HR person about my plan, they said they don’t offer layaway to their customers, but suggested a few stores nearby that might. I decided on Toys R Us since my plan was to find someone who was trying to buy toys for their kids anyway.

When I spoke to the manager at this particular Toys R Us about what I wanted to do, she kept looking at me like she couldn’t understand what I was asking. Apparently, no one has ever asked to do this for someone else with merchandise on layaway in their store before.  I guess that makes sense. It’s not like a gift registry where people come in and buy things you requested. It’s things you’ve chosen for your child but can’t afford to pay for all at once, so you put it on a payment plan for yourself. She told me the deadline for the people with items on layaway to pay it off and pick them up was December 15th. We scrolled the computer together so I could choose some families to help.

These people have no idea who I am and I don’t know them either. There were hundreds of names staring back at me from the screen. I had no idea how to choose, so I based my decision on layaways that were set up in the middle of October, when Christmas layaway accounts could be started, because these people obviously needed as much time as possible to pay them off. I chose an equal number of men with accounts as women, and from there, by the items listed. Almost all of them were toys for very small children, one had a bike on the list, all of them had an obvious theme of what the child loved (Incredible Hulk, Barbie, Lego). Clearly, these families had chosen these gifts for their little ones so they could wake up on Christmas morning and have a holiday to remember, as well as hours of joy and entertainment long after the day was over.

Another store manager came to help out because it was a pretty lengthy process. He looked up at me and said ” You know, every shift I work I donate $5 to Toys for Tots which felt like I was doing something to help, but what you’re doing is really awesome.” That was sweet, but that’s not how I felt at all.  I have always felt that if we do what we can to help, no matter big or small, it makes an enormous difference. I told him about raising $15,000 in 5 days for the Pasadena Humane Society after our dog, Ferris had died. A HUGE portion of those donations came in just by me suggesting people skip their Starbucks for one day because that $5 can make a difference in helping others. Thousands of dollars were raised, $5 at a time because people just wanted to do their part to help. I encouraged the manager to keep doing what he’s doing, because he IS making a difference. He smiled and agreed.

The manager had employees go pull all of the items on the lists I had chosen so he could store all of the merchandise in his office. That way the families could pick them up directly from him, where he could explain why they didn’t have a balance due, and could just take their items home.

The staff was so sweet and helpful and were so awesome about helping me secretly do something kind for a stranger, even if it was outside the norm of store policies. They were just as much a part of doing something kind for these families as I was. I realized after I left that I never actually told the staff my name, which was perfect. My plan to do this anonymously followed through to the end.

I mentioned on Twitter that I did this because I knew there were others out there who would be inspired to find a way to help others. There are so many people in need of everything from food, shelter and clothing to just wanting to give their child a Christmas. I know I can’t help everyone, but after reading this, I hope it inspires others to do something, anything, just to be kind to a stranger.


59 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers

  1. Anne, this evening I was at a book store buying a couple cool Doctor Who gifts for my 12 yo daughter who is a new fan. Money is tight right now so no new game consoles on the shopping list. The book store was asking people to buy a book or gift to donate to families in need. I recalled your tweets and had the cashier pick something out for me to contribute. Every little bit of kindness we put back into the world goes a long way.

  2. I love that you did this!

    And I really love that you reminded that store manager that $5 CAN make a big difference. I have a small blog, but I wanted to encourage my readers to give in small ways so I started #GoWithout. The idea was by skipping one small luxury (say, that Starbucks run, or lunch out instead of bagging it) you could give a little something to someone in need.

    It was so awesome hearing from people who decided to make it a regular thing!

  3. Here’s some more info about more reasons to not like soda: – oh- and don’t mind the “haters.” Remember that bullies do what they do to try to bring you down because they already feel less than you. When you know that, it not only removes the sting of their words, it helps you feel compassion for their pain and fear that makes them act that way.

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