When my daughter was eight, she’d come into my room one morning, noticing a jar filled with coins.
“Wowsa mom! That’s a lot of coin there,” She said, and I knew she had visions of what we were going to do once we counted it.
“That’s my Random Acts of Kindness jar.”
“What’s that mom?” she inquired.
“It’s something I’ve been doing since I was a single young lady. I didn’t always have great Christmases and when I was able to be in a better place, I remembered how it felt and so I started this jar and every December I go buy some things and give them out.” I didn’t think she’d get it because of the look on her face.
“I have some change, can I put it in the jar and help to?” she asked.
And that’s how Helping Hands got started.
It became a fun thing for us to do. We’d decorate jars for various donations we’d make and when needed, we counted the coins, wrapped them, took them to the bank and went shopping. She learned a valuable lesson and that was that it was fun to go shopping for yourself; who doesn’t like a shopping spree, but when you do for others, it’s a great feeling.
My daughter would go to High School where each year the students were required to do service in their communities. We expanded the helping hands project(Now it became a project) to include little baggies of toiletries for the homeless. We began to distribute these bags in my mother’s church and someone got a hold of the media and before we knew it, she was on New York 1 talking about how easy it was to help others.
A few weeks later, a dentist shipped us a box of toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Kindness is contagious.
A few weeks after that, friends started sending me the toiletries that the hotels provided for their stay and before long we were bagging and sharing.
One year, we heard of two families living in the area where my daughter went to grade school, that were in really bad shape. One had a fire and the other family had a member that was sick and couldn’t work. The first thing out of my daughter’s mouth was,”Mom, can we switch the jars around and split the money to help these families? I know it might not be much but who knows?”
“If it puts a smile on their face, it’s worth it. ”
So off we went, counted our money, made our plans and off to the stores to go shopping. You’d be surprised at the treasures one can find in stores like The Dollar Tree, Five Below and the Dollar Bonanza. We came home with bags and my husband thought we had hit the lottery. It was that or I had spent our entire monthly household cash.
We began to separate, add this to that and the wrapping began. We bought cards with positive messages and made sure that there were at least two items for each person in addition to what we bought for the entire family. Now we had to deliver it but how could we do that in a neighborhood that was so close knit? Someone was sure to see us at any time.
We picked a day and just drove around and when we were sure there was no-one looking, we ran and placed the boxes on the porch and quickly got back in the car. One down, one to go we said as we giggled to our next stop.
Our hearts were beating but we had to complete the mission. Two blocks down, we had to do this again but this time there were way to many people around, so we decided to take a lunch break and wait. It paid off. We delivered our boxes, drove home and felt “totally amazing!” as my daughter would say.
Every year was different for us. If we heard of a family needing something, we’d take what we had, washed it, ironed it and pack it up nicely. It was always rewarding.
Then 9/11 happened and we didn’t even think of the jars. We couldn’t find any joy in doing anything. We didn’t even decorate much at all. And if you know me, by mid-November, my home becomes Santa’s village.
That December, feeling so lost, I just put up an American flag in the hallway where the elevator opens. I put a sign up that said,”Please keep the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 in your thoughts and prayers. Please keep our soldiers in your prayers as well. ”
Before long, there were messages written on pieces of paper, tagged on to the poster board I had put up. I put up another one and wrote, “Please share your thoughts and prayers with all.” And before long there were three more poster boards. People needed to express how they felt and here was a plain piece of poster board that would bring them some release. I never saw those poster boards or messages. If it made someone feel better then I’m happy about it.
“Did you put that up Sonia?” Ms. Whithey would ask me.
“Put what up?” I asked.
“The poster boards with all the dedications for 9/11. It’s taken on a life all its own. This is a community gift. I need to know who did this,” and she walked away.
The following year it seemed like there were suddenly an abundance of kids living on our floor. I put up Welcome back to school decorations and I designated a wall for FYI’s – DID YOU KNOW? And every morning, children who weren’t living on our floor would come and read another FYI.
Halloween, the same.
Thanksgiving, the same.
Thanksgiving evening, when all was in bed after a lot of food, my daughter and I sneek out of our apartment quietly and begin to decorate our hallways. We wanted every one to wake up and be in a winter wonderland. And a lot of DID YOU KNOWS went up.
“Sonia, do you know who is doing this? Other floors are doing this. It’s bringing every one in and it’s the topic at the tenants meeting. Come on find out for me. We need to thank them.”
I said I’d try.
One year, we heard a loud bang on our door. My husband opened the door and rushed to my room to get me. It was our neighbor and something was happening to her. It was a panic attack I had never seen before. It almost felt like a seizure but again nothing I had ever experienced like this. I finally calmed her down and called for an ambulance. I ran to her apartment to secure if and grabbed her pocketbook and cell phone. I looked for any number that would tell me it was a family member. Before long the apartment was secure and she was on her way to the hospital. Her children who lived near by came the following day to thank me. A few days later I’d received a beautiful plant.
Months went by and every time I saw Carmen, she’d smile and say thank you again so much and I would tell her, I’m here any time you need me for whatever reason.
We met on the way into the building a few months after that and she told me,
” I believe we live in a world where people take too much for granted and others are just never happy for the things they do have. I will always be grateful to you for what you did for me and my children. And by the way, Thank you for the hallway decorations.”
I looked up quickly. “Huh? What hallway…..
I know it’s you. Your spirit is in everything you do and I believe that when we feel a good way about something we should share it. After 9/11, I saw you leaving your home every night. I saw your husband coming home with dusty clothes every day. I figured out that he was doing days and you were doing midnights. I wish I could have said something to you both but you looked so sad, I didn’t know what to say. But the decorations, that’s you. ”
I just smiled. I didn’t know what else to say.
One Saturday, the doorbell rang.
It was Carmen’s daughter.
Carmen had passed away.
I hugged her.
“I wanted you to know that every day that she left her apartment and every day that she came home, she was greeted with your gift. And it made her day. It brought her happiness. I wanted to thank you for that.”
I didn’t know.
Then the illnesses of friends from Ground Zero started becoming a part of our lives and we lost that gift.
“I don’t know what’s going on with you Miss Thang. But you best get over it and start decorating our hallways again.” Ms. Whithey would say to me in the elevator one day.
“How do you know? Did Carmen say something?”
“No one told me. But I saw you rushing back and forth to her place and yours, making phone calls and stopping to fix one of the decorations that fell. You knew where to put it and later on when you were cleaning the mess the medics made, you had tape in your pocket and you stabilized the decorations again. It’s you. It’s been you. And thank you. It’s one of the most joyful things I can come home to every day. Cause you know, Doctors can cure you but they can kill your spirit with their hundred dollar words.”
I smiled and walked away. BUSTED! The secret was out.
And then Ms. Whithy went home too. And what spirit I had left, was gone. I found no joy in decorating. I found no joy in the gift to my neighbors.
Two weeks after Thanksgiving, I’d walk out into the hallway to get on the elevator and there were notes on the wall.
“Please decorate our halls again. It’s our smile in the morning and our smile in the evening. Thank You.”
No one knew! With renewed strength and encouragement, we decorated it. This time we didn’t sneak around. We played music and all the kids on the floor came out. “Can I help?”
That’s how a community of people work together. Each different in their beliefs, their religion and their thoughts. We even had people who did not celebrate any of the holidays but were so grateful that I always put up a wall that said, “To those that don’t celebrate the holidays, may the New Year bring you an abundance of love, joy, happiness and health. Thanks for being our neighbors.
I never knew that a simple gesture could mean so much. And it is with that thought and the memories that have stayed with me, that I happily decorate our halls today.
I didn’t know it then but I do now… Anything we can do to bring a community together, needs to be done.
I never knew that any of what I did would matter to any one in particular. It was just a fun thing and I felt, I’d eventually phase out of it.
What will you do for your community?
Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others and remember any thing you do… a smile, a hug, anything does go a long way for those in need.
With much love and many blessings,