This Week in Kindness – March 12

This week I’m going in a little different direction, doing something some are reluctant to do: talking about what they’re doing. I remember back when I was doing the 500 Kindnesses project I connected with a number of folks working on similar projects and we all struggled with the same thing: Do we talk about the good we do? On the one hand, it can seem boastful, or like virtue signaling (I can’t stand that phrase). Some have been accused of sharing videos of good deeds for likes and views. On the other hand, if everyone stays quiet about the good that’s being done, the balance of good news to bad news gets skewed. The newspapers and social media are filled with stories of terrible humans and there are few of good ones.

So today I’m going to take a risk and talk about something I do in the hopes that you can see how simple action can make a difference.

Over a decade ago a friend of mine connected me with a group that was doing a free breakfast service out of a church in Kensington Market in Toronto. At that time, pre-pandemic, it was a sit-down breakfast and we had many high school students helping out to meet their volunteer hours agreement. There would be several in the kitchen cooking up eggs while others served toast, eggs, fruit, juice and coffee out front. When the pandemic hit, that group stepped back – many of the organizers were retired teachers and were in a high risk age group. The church took it back over and made it more of a ‘pandemic-friendly’ approach. People could come in, grab a breakfast sandwich, some fruit and bread, and coffee, tea, and/or juice. As things stabilized I connected with the new organizers and started going every Saturday morning. It does require getting out of bed at an ungodly hour to get on a bus at 5:30 AM to arrive by 6:30. But after that the work is very simple: I’ll set out drinks, make some tea, get a few ‘double doubles’ only needing the coffee to be added.

Doors open at 7:00 and there’s a steady flow of people for about an hour, sometimes right up until 8:30. Some folks who come speak only Mandarin (so I learned to say “milk” and “sugar” in Mandarin to get a better idea of how they want their coffee. Then it’s just a matter of handing out coffee while others hand out food. I chat with some of the regulars, asking how they’re doing.

When it gets cold there can sometimes be a little bit more work. Many folks are sleeping outside on the streets or in tents. While the idea is that people come in and take their things ‘to go’, when it’s -15 out and people are cold, letting them sit by the heater and have some coffee is the only thing to do. Some come in without proper clothes. We generally try to keep a cache of warm socks, gloves, hand warmers, hats and sometimes a coat or two in the back. Sometimes they’re not available so a volunteer may give up their own socks for someone with particularly cold and wet feet. After all, we can just go back home to our warm houses, get another pair and move on.

Last weekend, one regular who comes every weekend to get breakfast for her and her housebound husband fills up a couple of bottles with hot coffee and tea for later. She told me and the person helping that she was so grateful to know people were thinking of them. For all of us, waking up early is a minor inconvenience and the work amounts to pouring a coffee or mopping a floor or wiping a table afterward. After we finish at 8:30 it takes no more than 20 minutes to wrap up, I pick up a few things on the way home and often have breakfast and a nap. It can hardly get easier than that. But for the folks who come – sometimes 150 or more people on a busy or cold morning it means a meal, something hot to drink, a place to warm up and the knowledge that there are folks that care about them and want to help. The ratio of value for others to personal effort is incredibly high.

The number of opportunities like this in our communities is huge and that’s why I’m sharing this with you: for those of you who have some time to help, it can be quite easy. If you’re shy or don’t want to be on the front lines, food banks often need a hand sorting food or creating food packets for distribution. I don’t get a lot of traffic on this site, but 10-20 people visiting daily is an average. Imagine if just that many people went out every week and shared one hour of their time. 20 hours x 52 weeks/year is 1,040 hours. What can 1,040 hours do in our community when we share it with those in need? Who can we feed? Who can we help learn English or learn to read? Who can we advocate for?

If you can’t help regularly, you can also consider helping out at events. These can be particularly fun and rewarding. I’ve cheered on walkers and runners in charity athletic events, helped feed cyclists and directed them on their way in charity rides. Often around Christmas I’ve been known to don a turkey costume and encourage folks to donate turkeys (or tofurkeys for vegetarians) to a food bank at grocery stores. These events took only a few hours on a one time only basis and are the way these sorts of events are able to happen. (And they’re also a load of fun. You should totally try them)

Me looking (but not feeling) like a turkey

There’s also been quite a bit of good news this week also:

  • In Sheffield, UK, some folks went out onto a roof near a hospital after a snowstorm and wrote “Get Well Soon” so that people could see it through the window. The story is here.
  • In New York City a landlord became the legal guardian of one of his 93 year old tenants, a holocoaust survivor because “she had no one else.” Story here.
  • It’s become a bit of a joke that headlines starting with “Florida Man” can be outrageous. This one kind of is but in a good way. A 400 lb black bear wandered into a residential neighbourhood. They tranquilized it to take it safely but it ran away and dove in the water to get to what it thought was safety and then couldn’t swim due to the drugs. This “Florida Man”, a wildlife biologist dove in and saved him, still risking injury and brought him to shore where he was then taken back to safety in the forest. I think both the man and the bear have quite an experience to tell their friends about. I never thought I’d say this but “Go Florida Man!” The story is here.

Sometimes a picture says 1,000 words:

Did I miss some? What acts of kindness or good news stories do you know about? Share them below!

6 thoughts on “This Week in Kindness – March 12

  1. You do great work Todd. I think it’s great to nudge others in the same direction. So often I hear, I want to help but don’t know how. There is always a need for others, and you showed that in your post. I have always found great satisfaction in helping others. Lift’s the spirit, doesn’t it?

    PS. Don’t worry about the criticism of others. I live by this: “while there is time, let us do good”. My dad lived his life with this in mind, and when we celebrated his life a few months ago, hundreds of people came with stories of “ the time he gave, and the good he did”. 🤗😇

  2. I decided to share your post with my small number of readers. Hopefully the feedback you get will be good. Of course, if you don’t want the attention or it becomes a hassle (though because the numbers are small, I doubt that will happen) please let me know and I will take it down.

  3. I love that you want to blog about good things like this and that you make an effort to encourage people to do something kind. So little of it these days in our age where lack of empathy is prized in some circles.

    I have always wanted to volunteer I’m a soup kitchen and you got me thinking maybe I should start looking for volunteering opportunities in my neighborhood.

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