Make a Difference: Random Acts of Kindness

I've been meaning to do a Make a Difference post for a while. If you get to the end of this post you'll see why it took me so long and you get a gold star for being the most patient reader ever!

I had kind of a milestone birthday a few months ago, and I wanted it to be a special day, so we decided to do a marathon. Not a 26 mile one, but a marathon of kindness--Random Acts of Kindness (or RAOK). I got the idea from this blog post I found. That blog post turned into a whole movement called The Birthday Project. You can check out all kinds of awesome, fun, kind things people are doing on their fb page. We took some ideas from Robyn's list, and thought of some on our own. We planned a lot of our stops and did some prep work, but some of the things we did as we thought of them, or just the way the day worked out. I think the random part is that no one was expecting us to do something for them that day. It was a memorable birthday to be sure. I have a few thoughts about the day at the end, but without further ado, here's some of our kindness adventure...

We packed up the car with supplies for the first round of stops.

Our first stop was to King Soopers where they have a horse that kids can ride for one cent. One day Thing One was riding it and a little girl was waiting her turn. After he got off she was anxious to ride. We started walking away, but then Thing One looked back a realized the girl's dad didn't have any change, and the Penny jar was empty. "We have to help that girl, Mom! She needs a penny to ride the horse!" He rushed a penny to her and we made a note to make a stop here for our kindness day. We took a bag of pennies my sister had given us and filled up the penny jar!

Next stop was the coffee shop. We go to this Starbucks a lot, and so we see the same people there a lot. I've always wanted to do something nice for them, but what do you do for a Barista? I mean, you can't bring them coffee! So I made up a bunch of mini flower arrangements, and we put them on the tables around the shop. One barista was cleaning the bathrooms when we put them out and she was so surprised when she came out and found flowers everywhere!

Next, we know a family that had been having a super tough year, just one thing after the other. So we put together a super family fun basket for them and left it on their porch with a note "Sorry your year's been so crappy, hope your summer will be happy!" We rang the bell and sped away! 

The pool noodles you can see in the first picture were lightsabers we left on another neighbor's porch. My neighbor's post on her FB the next day was "Thank you, kind lightsaber-giver, whoever you are, the boys love them!"

We dropped some homemade breakfast goodies off at our church for the staff to enjoy, and then we headed to the hospital. 

Thing One spent a night in the hospital once a couple of years ago. The staff was great and kept bringing him toys, crayons, and movies to keep him occupied. But when we had to change rooms we had to grab all our stuff plus a handful of loose crayons. They also kept rolling on the floor while he was using them. So I sewed up some monster crayon rolls, and we hit the dollar store for coloring books. We brought the peds unit a box of crayon rolls and a stack of coloring books. 

We also left some flowers at the nurses station (the nurse there was so surprised and happy, she thanked us several times). We also brought a bouquet to the information desk which is run by sweet volunteers. Lots of flowers pass over that desk, but never for the volunteer running it! This seemed like such a good idea, we dropped off some more flowers at another hospital volunteer desk later in the day.

We also made a trip to the family waiting area of the labor and delivery unit. I remember looking in there before and noticing there were no toys or books or anything for anxious, soon-to-be siblings. So we dropped off some coloring books, crayons and board books. 

Next up was Thing One's favorite stop. We are so lucky to have a washer and dryer. I never realized how lucky until we visited this laundry mat and I saw how expensive it is to do laundry there! It was way cheaper at our laundry mat in college. 

This stop was pretty much sponsored by my sister. She outfitted us with everything we needed to spread kindness here. Armed with a bazillion quarters we put the required amount on every dryer.

Then we left a bunch of laundry detergent and some dryer sheets.

The  detergent was the pod kind so people could (theoretically) just take a few and leave the rest for others. There was one guy there while we were there, and it's definitely possible that he just collected all the quarters when we left. But if he did...he needed them, and I hope it made his day better.

Thing One helped me fill all the detergent vending machines with quarters.

Another stop was at a local pregnancy center where I used to volunteer. This center helps families in the community with material donations like diapers, baby clothing and blankets. So we brought a mega box of diapers and some gently used baby stuff like burp cloths and blankets.

We actually did another volunteer event at this center in the winter, where we did some landscape work for them. At the time we had wanted to mulch around the plants on their property, but it turns out stores don't sell mulch in the winter! So we came prepared this time with garden gloves and mulch and we weeded and mulched...

...and then had to come back the next day with yet more mulch to finish the job, but I think it looked a lot better when we were done. Thing One was a big help on this one. We plan to bring a few bags of mulch to freshen this up every year. 

Next we made a fun stop. I knew this day would be a lot for our two little Things to handle, so we tried to be reasonable. I bought a new show for them to watch in the car while we dragged them all over the state all day, they got treats at the Starbucks stop, and we planned a park stop. A couple of times Thing One has found other kids' lost toys in the sand and it was like buried treasure to him. So I thought it would be fun to buy some plastic frogs and lizards, for them to hide on the playground for other kids to find there. 

We also left a box of side walk chalk and a bunch of bottles of bubbles with a "free" sign. 

We brought groceries, diapers, and laundry supplies to our local food bank. While we were there, we popped over to the client services office, and surprised the ladies working the desk with a bouquet for them. Of everywhere we went, these ladies were the most grateful. It made me so happy and a little sad, actually. I think it might have been the first time one of them had ever received flowers. I can't imagine how stressful their jobs must be. I had to go back in for directions to the child care center and one of the ladies was so patiently explaining how they could pay a clients utility bill, but only if they filled out the paperwork. Once we had the directions we headed to the child care center, where low-income families can receive free childcare for young children while the parent/s go to work. I had looked up their wanted items online, and we brought them craft supplies, bubbles and wipes.

After that we stopped at Subway and bought a gift card. While we were driving all over with all our stops, we saw a guy with a sign asking for help. So we stopped and gave him the card and told him we hoped he had a good day. He said, "Well this will sure help. Thanks!" : )

A couple of friends of ours have recently started volunteering with a charity that collects overnight backpacks for foster kids. It's called Packs of Hope. Many kids enter into foster care unexpectedly and may find themselves with nothing for a short time while details are sorted out and placements are made. These backpacks are donated packed full of: a set of pj's, an outfit, socks, underwear, a toothbrush, comb or brush and sometimes a small stuffed animal. So we put together one for a little girl...

...a diaper bag for a baby...

...a teen girl toiletries bag, and two boy packs. We dropped the finished packs off at our friend's house.

Next we brought a spontaneous picnic dinner to my parents who were in the middle of a big project and lots of craziness.

On our final stretch we made some quick coin drops. I made up several of these notes with a baggie of quarters for us to leave places throughout the day.

We brought one or two to the car wash.

And our final stop was to tape up some free Redbox codes, we also left some boxes of popcorn and candy with notes.

And now, the rest of the story:
It was an adventure, and a long exhausting day, but I'm glad we did it, and I would totally recommend RAOK, but with a few lessons learned: Some of our stops were super fulfilling; it really felt good to make someone's day. On the other hand, some of them didn't go exactly as I had envisioned. It was pretty humbling, and I was disappointed in myself for feeling disappointment at times that day. Sometimes I kind of thought we were doing something cool, and when we showed up the people we gave stuff to were kind of like, "ok...see ya later."
When we got to Starbucks, all the baristas behind the counter were men. Some men might like flowers, but when I told the guy behind the counter the flowers were for them to take home at the end of the day he and the rest of the guys were pretty indifferent. Since that was one of our first stops and I was all excited to make everyone's day, I was a little let down until the one woman I mentioned earlier came out as we were walking out the door.
At times I was hot, sweaty and a tiny bit frustrated when things didn't go as planned. I realized afterwards that was probably only because we planned to do so much that day.  It wasn't a big deal, just not the 100% smiles, everyone's so happy to see you like the other Random Acts of Kindness birthdays that I had read about. I totally take the blame for thinking everything would go smoothly. It's life, nothing ever goes totally as planned, right?

All in all though, I loved the perspective we had that day of looking at everyone through a lense of how can I spread kindness to this person? I want to see people that way all the time. Maybe it felt harder to me because we had two very little kiddos with us all day, but I'd suggest that you don't try to string together 20 or 30 RAOKs in a single day. Since the plan was to do something kind for each year, we had so many stops to make we didn't have time to just hang around and sneakily wait for someone to discover their free car wash, or laundry detergent or movie or whatever. We kind of missed out on seeing how we impacted people's day. If we'd been able to slow down and take enough time to see each RAOK through, instead of rushing to the next one, we might have gotten more out of each experience.  If I did it again (which we probably will in a different form), I'd make a list of what we want to do and then spread it out over lots of days so we don't get "weary in doing good." I think it would be cool to decide you were going to have a kindness day every month. So if your birthday was on the 10th, then every 10th of the month you do something especially kind. I think we might try to do something like that next year.

We learned a lot from our kindness day, some stuff I'm still learning actually.

Thing One is terribly friendly. I used to stop him from saying hi to every stranger, but I don't anymore. He knows to only talk to strangers if he's right with one of us and I realized that saying hi is his own act of kindness. He seeks out and greets people I wouldn't tend to go out of my way to say hi to; gets in their line of vision and waves to them. And you know what? Once in a while someone is annoyed, but 9 out of 10 times, I think what those people feel is seen. He makes them smile. I think there are a lot of people going through life feeling like, no one even sees me. Yesterday we were walking out of a baseball game and there was a tough-looking guy smoking on a bench we passed. I avoided eye contact, and Thing One went right over a put a flower on the bench next to him. I can't tell just by looking at someone what they need. But I know that everyone longs to feel acknowledged, valued, loved. Sometimes just looking someone in the eye and saying hi or asking about their day is the kindest thing I can do in a moment. I wanted to included Things One and Two in our kindness day so they could see the importance of doing things for others, but it turns out I'm the one learning from a little boy with no money, and no plans. At least I'm learning.
If you are still reading this, hi Mom : ), thanks for sticking with me and my rambling.

I would encourage everyone to do Random Acts of Kindness, one at a time. That's what we're trying to do now, just make it part of everyday life. There's a list of ideas on the Make a Difference page on the right side here, or click here for that list, it includes the ideas above and some we didn't do (on this day).  You don't have to join an organization or be a big donor to make a difference, just decide to make someone's day a little better.

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.” 
 Mother Teresa (from  A Simple Path by Mother Teresa)

Good luck with your kindness adventures! I'd love to hear about stuff that you do or have done. Thanks for reading!


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