Several years ago when I started doing the 500 Kindnesses project, I thought a lot about the nature of kindness. A couple of things really stood out in my mind.
The first was that we love the idea of kindness. We all like to read stories about people doing good things for one another. We all wish that there was more kindness in the world, and many of us have, to some degree, the idea that the world is in bad shape because people aren’t kind.
The other thing I noticed is that so often we try to talk ourselves out of doing something kind before we even do it. We shouldn’t give the homeless person money because maybe they’ll not spend it the way we hope they will. We don’t buy a coffee for the stranger behind us in line because they might think we’re weird. We don’t volunteer to help out somewhere because probably someone will step up so why should we bother.
And so, I cultivated an attitude of “Yes” when it came to doing things I thought of that might create some good in the world. I’d think “Someone should help that panhandler.” and before I thought “What if they buy beer or cigarettes (or worse) with the money,” I decided to go and buy a grocery store gift card. If I thought it’d be cool to buy a bunch of free coffees at Tim Horton’s, I’d do it. And if I saw an opportunity to volunteer for an event on a day I was free, I would do it. (As I write this, I am thinking that I have been a bit remiss in my recent cultivation of this habit).
One of the things that I’ve done every year for the past several years (except last year when I was on a business trip) is to volunteer for the Second Harvest Turkey Drive. Second Harvest gathers food donations in Toronto and then distributes them to food banks throughout the city. Individuals and families who don’t have enough money to get enough good food for their families can then go to a food bank and get food so they have enough to eat. It’s not an ideal situation, but it helps.
And every year just before Christmas, Second Harvest partners with a local grocery store chain, Loblaws to help get a large supply of turkeys (one of the most common Christmas dinner foods) to share with needy families. Volunteers go to the store to encourage shoppers to buy a turkey and donate it to Second Harvest and then the turkeys are carried out a waiting refrigerated truck that will bring them to a distribution centre. Sometimes we just talk to passing customers, other times we put on ridiculous costumes. Whatever it takes to get people inspired to help others!
The first year we went I invited several friends to join me and this same core group with a few new faces that come in and out every year has done it. This year was my third time doing it and I had a great time. Our goal for the afternoon at this store was to have 90 turkeys donated and we ended up with 101 being donated. In the end, over several stores and two weekends, 5,395 turkeys were donated. And along with that, Loblaws donated $5/turkey to Second Harvest that can be used to buy even more food (including vegetaria alternatives for those who don’t eat meat or like turkey)
All of which is to say, for all we say that the world needs more kindness and someone needs to do something. Every day we have the opportunity to be that someone, and often it doesn’t take a great deal of individual effort.