30 Stories About the Touching Kindness of Strangers That’ll Make You Tear Up

We asked readers for firsthand accounts of compassion. Here are 30 stories on kindness that touched your lives—and our hearts.

Reader’s Digest is seeking stories of random acts of kindness that you’ve witnessed in your community for our search for the Nicest Places in America

A couple of years ago, I stumbled off the subway in Upper Manhattan exhausted after a long and stressful day at work, dreaming about the warmth of my bed. I stopped in a 7/11 on the way to my apartment to buy a bag of popcorn (treat yourself!) A man about three times my size stood in front of me at the register buying a pack of cigarettes and turned towards me, telling me I looked tired. I smiled uncomfortably and became noticeably more alert, as a young woman does when a strange man starts talking to her at night. He turned towards the cashier and said that he was going to get my snack too. I politely declined and was already pulling out my wallet, but this man wouldn’t allow me to say no. He handed the cashier a couple of extra dollars to cover my popcorn and told me that he hoped my night got better. He walked out of the store and I never saw him again.

The world could use a little more kindness—especially with the year we just had. It’s pretty easy to get caught up in your own routine and everyday personal worries that sometimes we just don’t remember to tune into those around us. The man who paid for my popcorn has stuck with me and has inspired me to pay it forward to others who look like they could use a hand. It feels great to be kind, so it’s a win-win! Maybe you need a little guidance on random acts of kindness or maybe you need to be inspired with kindness quotes from people you admire, but these stories on kindness will definitely encourage you to pass the compassion on. A little bit will go a long way.

The Man at the Market

When the supermarket clerk tallied up my groceries, I was $12 over what I had on me. I began to remove items from the bags, when another shopper handed me a $20 bill. “Please don’t put yourself out,” I told him. “Let me tell you a story,” he said. “My mother is in the hospital with cancer. I visit her every day and bring her flowers. I went this morning, and she got mad at me for spending my money on more flowers. She demanded that I do something else with that money. So, here, please accept this. It is my mother’s flowers.” — Leslie Wagner, Peel, Arkansas

Jim and the Job

My neighbor, Jim, had trouble deciding if he wanted to retire from the construction field, until he ran into a younger man he’d worked with previously. The young man had a wife and three children and was finding it difficult to make ends meet, since he hadn’t worked in some time. The next morning, Jim went to the union office and submitted his retirement paperwork. As for his replacement, he gave them the name of the young man. That was six years ago, and that young husband and father has been employed ever since. —Miranda MacLean, Brutus, Michigan

RELATED: 35 Small Acts of Kindness to Brighten Someone’s Day Instantly

A Family’s Food Angel

While going through a divorce, my mother fretted over her new worries: no income, the same bills, and no way to afford groceries. It was around this time that she started finding boxes of food outside our door every morning. This went on for months until she was able to land a job. We never did find out who it was who left the groceries for us, but they truly saved our lives. — Jamie Boleyn, Emmett, Idaho

Color Me Amazed

I forgot about the rules on liquids in carry-on luggage, so when I hit security at the airport, I had to give up all my painting supplies. When I returned a week later, an attendant was at the baggage area with my paints. Not only had he kept them for me, but he’d looked up my return date and time in order to meet me.  —Marilyn Kinsella, Canmore, Canada 

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Seven Miles For Me

Leaving a store, I returned to my car only to find that I’d locked my keys and cell phone inside. A teenager riding his bike saw me kick a tire and say a few choice words. “What’s wrong?” he asked. I explained my situation. “But even if I could call my wife,” I said, “she can’t bring me her car key, since this is our only car.” He handed me his cell phone. “Call your wife and tell her I’m coming to get her key.” “That’s seven miles round trip.” “Don’t worry about it.” An hour later, he returned with the key. I offered him some money, but he refused. “Let’s just say I needed the exercise,” he said. Then, like a cowboy in the movies, he rode off into the sunset. —Clarence W. Stephens, Nicholasville, Kentucky 

RELATED: 12 Kindness Memes That Will Inspire You to Spread Cheer

The Little Lift

One evening, I left a restaurant just ahead of a woman assisting her elderly mom. I approached the curb and paused to see if my arthritic knees could climb it. To my right appeared an arm to assist. It was that of the elderly mom. My heart was so touched. —Donna Moerie, Goldsboro, North Carolina

Bounty For a Navy Wife

I was balancing caring for a toddler and working a full-time job, all while my Navy husband was on extended duty overseas. One evening, the doorbell rang. It was my neighbor, a retired chief petty officer, holding a breadboard loaded with a freshly cooked chicken and vegetable stew. “I’ve noticed you’re getting a little skinny,” he said. It was the best meal I’d had in months. —Patricia Fordney, Corvallis, Oregon 

My Granddaughter’s Dress

I saw a dress in a consignment shop that I knew my granddaughter would love. But money was tight, so I asked the store owner if she could hold it for me. “May I buy the dress for you?” asked another customer. “Thank you, but I can’t accept such a gracious gift,” I said. Then she told me why it was so important for her to help me. She’d been homeless for three years, she said, and had it not been for the kindness of strangers, she would not have been able to survive. “I’m no longer homeless, and my situation has improved,” she said. “I promised myself that I would repay the kindness so many had shown me.” She paid for the dress, and the only payment she would accept in return was a heartfelt hug. —Stacy Lee, Columbia, Maryland

RELATED: 50 Kindness Quotes for Kids to Inspire Them to Be Good Human Beings

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White Shoulders

A woman at our yard sale wore a perfume that smelled heavenly and familiar. “What are you wearing?” I asked. “White Shoulders,” she said. Suddenly, I was bowled over by a flood of memories. White Shoulders was the one gift I could count on at Christmas from my late mother. We chatted awhile, and she bought some things and left. A few hours later, she returned holding a new bottle of White Shoulders. I don’t recall which one of us started crying first. —Media Stooksbury, Powell, Tennessee

Breaking Bread

Last December, before work, I stopped at a deli and ordered an everything bagel with cream cheese. It was toasty warm, and I couldn’t wait to dig in. But as I left the store, I noticed an older indigent gentleman sitting at the bus stop. Knowing it would probably be his only warm meal of the day, I gave him the bagel. But all was not lost for me. Another customer from the deli offered me half of her bagel. I was so delighted because I realized that in one way or another, we are all looked after. —Liliana Figueroa, Phoenix, Arizona

“I Can Still Help”

As I walked through the parking lot, all I could think about was the dire diagnosis I had handed my patient Jimmy: pancreatic cancer. Just then, I noticed an elderly gentleman handing tools to someone working under his stalled car. That someone was Jimmy. “Jimmy, what are you doing?” I yelled out. Jimmy dusted off his pants. “My cancer didn’t tell me not to help others, Doc,” he said, before waving at the old man to start the car. The engine roared to life. The old man thanked Jimmy and drove off. Then Jimmy got into his car and took off as well. Take-home message: Kindness has no limits and no restrictions. —Mohammed Basha, Gainesville, Florida.

RELATED: 50 Acts of Kindness for Kids to Do

Top Note

When my husband died unexpectedly, a coworker took me under her wing. Every week for an entire year, she would send me a card saying “Just Thinking of You” or “Hang in There.” She saved my life.—Jerilynn Collette, Burnsville, Minnesota

He Kept an Eye on Me

Driving home in a blizzard, I noticed a vehicle trailing close behind me. Suddenly, my tire blew! I pulled off the road, and so did the other car. A man jumped out from behind the wheel and without hesitation changed the flat. “I was going to get off two miles back,” he said. “But I didn’t think that tire looked good.” —Marilyn Attebery, Spokane Valley, Washington

My Commander’s Call

It was one of my first missions on a gunship during the Vietnam War. I was scanning for enemy fire when I spotted a bright object that looked as if it were coming straight at us. “Missile! Missile!” I shouted into my interphone. The pilot jerked the airplane as hard as he could, dumping guys from one side of the craft to the next. Well, turns out the “missile” was a flare we had just dropped. Suffice it to say, the guys weren’t pleased. Back at the base, my commander put an arm around my shoulder. “Sergeant Hunter,” he said, “you keep calling them like you see them. Better safe than sorry.” That kind act gave me the confidence to be one of the top gunners in my squadron. —Douglas Hunter, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

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21 Apples From Max

When my grandson Max told his mother, Andrea, to donate any check she would give him for his 21st birthday, Andrea got an idea. She handed Max’s brother Charlie a video camera. Then she took out 21 $10 bills from the bank and bought 21 apples at the supermarket. When they spotted a homeless man, Andrea told him, “Today is my son Max’s 21st birthday, and he asked me to give a gift to someone to help him celebrate.” She handed the man a $10 bill and an apple. The man smiled into the camera and announced, “Happy birthday, Max!” Soon, they passed out their booty to men and women waiting in line at a soup kitchen. In a unified chorus, they wished Max, “Happy birthday!” At a pizza parlor, Andrea left $50 and told the owners to feed the hungry. “Happy birthday, Max!” they shouted. With one last $10 bill and apple, they stopped at Andrea’s sister’s office. Unable to contain her laughter or her tears, she bellowed into the camera, “Happy birthday, Max!”—Dr. Donald Stoltz, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

How Did She Know?

I was driving cross-country to start a new job. What began as a fun adventure turned into a nightmare when I realized I had run through most of my money and still had a ways to go. I pulled over and let the tears flow. That’s when I noticed the unopened farewell card my neighbor had shoved in my hand as I left. I pulled the card out of the envelope, and $100 dropped out—just enough to get me through the remainder of my trip. Later, I asked my neighbor why she had enclosed the money. She said, “I had a feeling it would help.” —Nadine Chandler, Winthrop, Massachusetts

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Raised Right

Children were playing at the recreation area of an IKEA store when my five-year-old granddaughter motioned for a small boy to stop. She knelt down before him and retied his flopping shoelaces—she had only just learned to tie her own. No words were spoken, but after she finished, both smiled shyly, then turned to race off in different directions. —Sheela Mayes, Olla, Louisiana. 

RELATED: 10 Little Compliments You Should Be Giving Every Day

Blanket Statement

When I was seven, my family drove to the Grand Canyon. At one point, my favorite blanket flew out the window and was gone. I was devastated. Soon after, we stopped at a service station. Moping, I found a bench and was about to eat my sandwich when a biker gang pulled into the station. “Is that your blue Ford?” a huge, frightening man with a gray-and-black beard asked. Mom nodded reticently. The man pulled my blanket from his jacket pocket and handed it to her. He then returned to his motorcycle. I repaid him the only way I knew how: I ran up to him and gave him my sandwich. —Zena Hamilton, United Kingdom

Just Driving Through

When my friend and I were injured in a car accident, a family from out of state stopped to help. Seeing we were hurt, they drove us to the hospital and stayed there until we were released. They then took us home, got us food, and made sure we were settled in. Amazingly, they interrupted their vacation to help us. —Cindy Earls, Ada, Oklahoma 

Butterflies of Support

I was four months pregnant with our first child when our baby’s heart stopped beating. I was devastated. As the days went on, I was nervous about returning to work. I’m a middle school teacher and didn’t know how I could face kids. This past May, after four weeks of recovering, I walked into my empty classroom and turned on the lights. Glued to the wall were a hundred colored paper butterflies, each with a handwritten message on it from current and past students. All of them had encouraging messages: “Keep moving forward,” “Don’t give up on God,” and “Know that we love you.” It was exactly what I needed.— Jennifer Garcia-Esquivel, San Benito, Texas

RELATED: This Musician Asks Kids to Trade Their Guns in for Trumpets to Help Combat Violence in New Orleans

Twice as Nice

Two firefighters were waiting in line at a fast-food restaurant when the siren sounded on their fire truck parked outside. As they turned to leave, a couple who had just received their order handed their food to the firefighters. The couple then got back in line to reorder. Doubling down on their selfless act, the manager refused to take their money. — JoAnn Sanderson, Brandon, Florida

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Designated Driver

I’d pulled over onto the side of a New Mexico road and was suffering a panic attack when a minivan full of kids pulled over. A woman got out and asked if I was OK. “No,” I said. Then I laid out what had happened: I was delivering books for a publishing company. My next stop was way, way up this long and winding and, to me, very treacherous road. I couldn’t do it. “I’ll deliver the books for you,” she said. She was a local, and the roads were nothing for her. I took her up on the offer and never forgot the simple kindness of a stranger. —Doreen Frick, Ord, Nebraska

A Christmas Story

In January 2006, a fire destroyed a family’s home. In that fire were all the belongings of a six-year-old boy, including his Christmas presents. A classmate from his school who had a birthday around then asked her parents if she could give all her gifts to the boy. That act of kindness will forever warm my heart because the boy is my grandson. —Donna Kachnowski, Lebanon, Connecticut

RELATED: I Was Bullied on Valentine’s Day as a Kid. Here’s How I Spread Kindness on February 14 as a Teacher Now.

She Gave Me Direction

As I left a party, I got on the wrong freeway and was immediately lost. I pulled over to the shoulder and called my roadside-assistance provider. She tried to connect me to the California Highway Patrol, but that call never went through. Hearing the panic in my voice, she came up with a plan B: “You’re near this office,” she said. “I’m about to go off shift. Stay put, and I’ll find you.” Ten minutes later, she rolled up. She guided me not only to the right freeway but all the way to the correct freeway exit. And then, with a wave goodbye, she drove back into the night.—Michelle Arnold, Santee, California

Donations from Unlikely Places

A year ago, Micah Harold had a heart attack and actually died several times. Now, a year later, the coronavirus is here. Micah owns a tattoo parlor (he is an extremely talented artist), and his tattoo parlor has been closed because it is “non-essential.” But Micah has stepped up and is giving back to the community. His shop is on the edge of a not-so-affluent part of town. He has stocked his shop with essentials, such as toilet paper, paper towels, different types of non-perishable foods, and emergency items. Some things he bought with his own money, and he has had some donations from the community. He makes hand sanitizer and also has gloves and other items that people need for this pandemic available in his shop. Everything is free. You just go in, tell him what you need, and he gives it to you. His mother, Deborah Allen is also involved, not in his business, but in making cloth masks for people. She has long been a clothing designer, and now she is making masks and giving them away. They are both helping the community a great deal. —Judy Chandler, Shreveport, Louisiana

The Value of Essential Work

My husband’s job is one of the essential jobs (sanitation engineer), not a glamorous one but consider the alternative. About the second week of the lockdown, he was having trouble finding a spray for his truck to keep it sanitized. One morning on his way to work at 4 a.m., he stopped at one of the few stores open that early hoping to purchase some. When he got to the door, he saw that they were only open early for first responders and medical personnel. So, he turned to head back to his car. While walking back, a local sheriff’s deputy was going in, and he spotted my husband’s reflective vest and stopped him. He asked my husband which trash company he worked for, then proceeded to thank my husband for being out there. My husband told him that it was he that deserved the thanks. Then the deputy asked if he always shopped this early. My husband told him of the problem of finding a spray. The deputy then asked if he were able to find it that morning, so of course, my husband told him that he could not go in. The deputy told my husband to stay where he was, and he went in and purchased the spray and brought it out to my husband. My husband tried to pay him, but he would not take the money. —Karen Foster, Hillsboro, Oregon

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Through Sickness and Health

My neighbors, Jay and Treva, have been the best since we moved in. When my husband got brain cancer, they helped with yard work and snow removal. When Jim passed away, they were always helping me, anything they could. Meals, yard work, snow removal, putting my trash can away when I would forget. They still continue to care for me and if they don’t see me outside in a while they text to make sure I am alright and not down or anything. I know I can always count on them to be there for me no matter what happens! —Shelly Golay, Casper, Wyoming

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Stories on Kindness in Unexpected Places

“Going to the post office is usually a weekly event for me. I rarely give it any thought other than to drive there, go inside, and drop off my letter or package. However, our world has changed and now I must give careful consideration to this journey as my age and pre-existing condition put me into the “vulnerable” category. There are decisions that I need to make. Is this a package that must go out now? I conclude that it is. Is there anyone else who can take the package for me? I conclude there is not. So I have made two decisions already. Next, I must determine which of the two post offices closest to me would be the easiest one to accomplish my goal. I realize the larger one would be my best choice. Three decisions made! On the drive over, I determine that I will look to see the number of cars in the parking lot before I make my decision to go in. Upon arriving, I conclude the car population is small enough so I pull into an empty space. My next thought is, “perhaps I should wait for someone to come out and ask them to take my package in?” Then I realize, I will be making contact with a perfect stranger, and what is the difference between talking to that stranger and just going in and talking to the clerk? Next decision made, I walk inside. There are only two people and both are standing at the counters making their transactions. I walk to the front of what is normally a very long line. I am standing alone, waiting my turn. Shortly, I am called to the window. I can see that the postal clerk is aware of the fear in my eyes. She quietly steps back from her station and motions me to come forward. I step up to the counter and place my package on the scale. She then motions me to step back. I move away and she begins the process of weighing it and determining the proper postage. She tells me the price and motions me forward as she takes a step back. Again, I believe she saw the terror in my eyes and said, “one moment, Ma’am.” She leans under the counter and picks up a Lysol wipe. She thoroughly cleans the credit card machine and the entire counter around it. She then steps back and again motions me forward. As I insert my card, tears start to roll down my cheeks. I was so moved by the care with which she accomplished this usually very simple task. When I had completed the transaction, she again motioned me back as she stepped forward. She took the receipt, wiped it down, and lay it on the counter. Beside it, she placed a clean tissue as she could see my tears were still streaming down my cheeks. She again stepped away from the counter. I picked up the receipt and took a step back. In gratitude, I bowed to her. She bowed to me with equal respect. —Jeanne Hall, Nashville, Tennessee

Kind-Hearted Better Half

During COVID, there are orphans whose birthdays are not getting celebrated or they are not getting any gifts from their well-wishers. At this hard time, my wife (Neelam Singhal) collected birthday boxes, gifts, and birthday crowns and started calling various organizations that could accept them. She was able to connect with Kids TLC and she drove there to donate. She felt so happy doing something for them that she almost cried when she returned. I am lucky to have such a kind-hearted better half. —Manuj Singhal, Olathe, Kansas

Sharing the Wealth

When Clayton, New Jersey resident JoAnn Kates received her $1,200 government stimulus check, she initially toyed with the idea of giving $300 to each of her four grown children. But the devout Christian says the Lord spoke to her, telling her to use the money to buy meals for frontline medical workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic. While Kates has a daughter who is a NICU nurse in Tennessee, it was actually her six-year experience as a caregiver after her late husband suffered a severe brain injury in 2008 (he died in 2014) that helped her choose her local hospital—Jefferson Washington Township Hospital in Turnersville, New Jersey—for her generous food donation. “Nurses and doctors walked me through the worst six years of my life,” says Kates, whose husband never walked or talked again after a bicycle accident. “I wrote letters praising every nurse and trauma doctor I encountered during that time.” A fan of Scarpinato’s Italian food in Turnersville, Kates used her stimulus money to purchase 110 lunches that were delivered to the hospital on April 27. Staff from Medical-Surgical Units, ICU, Cardiopulmonary, the storeroom, as well as some physicians and residents, enjoyed the hot meal. —Nicole Pensiero Turnersville, New Jersey

Want more stories on kindness? Check out our Nicest Places in America 2020 finalists to get even more inspired.

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