17 Extraordinary Stories of Giving—From People Just Like You and Me

These acts of kindness—big and small—speak to the generosity of the American spirit.

Nov-16-FEA-generosity-no-junk-US161101GScott Winterton/Deseret News No Junk Reading
Last year, Mathew Flores, a 12-year-old from Sandy, Utah, approached postal worker Ron Lynch and asked if he had any extra advertisements or random newsletters. The boy explained that he loved to read but couldn’t afford books or even the bus fare to the library, so he would take anything the mailman had. Lynch was floored. “He didn’t want electronics; he didn’t want to sit in front of the TV playing games all day. The kid just wanted to read,” Lynch told deseretnews.com. Lynch asked his Facebook friends for reading material. Soon, Flores was getting books from all over the world—the United States, England, and even India. For his part, Flores said that he plans to read all the books, then share them with other book-starved kids.

You Don’t Learn This in College

When police found Fred Barley, 19, living in a tent on the campus of Gordon State College in Barnesville, Georgia, they were prepared to evict him. Then they heard his story. Barley had ridden six hours from Conyers, Georgia, on his little brother’s bike, carrying all his possessions—a duffel bag, a tent, two gallons of water, and a box of cereal—in order to enroll for his second semester at the school as a biology major. He’d arrived early to look for a job, but no luck. “I’m like, ‘Man, this is crazy,’” Officer Richard Carreker told ABC New York. Moved by Barley’s plight, Carreker and his partner put Barley up at a motel on their own dime. Word spread, and soon people donated clothes, school supplies, funds to cover the rest of his motel stay—he was even given a job at a pizzeria. And then there was Casey Blaney of Barnesville, who started a GoFundMe page for Barley after spending time with him. “I thought, Geez, this kid just rode a 20-inch little boy’s bike six hours in 100-degree weather. He’s determined,” she wrote on her Facebook page. The fund reached $184,000, all of which is going into an educational trust for Barley.

LouAnn’s Last Flight

For 34 years, LouAnn Alexander worked as a flight attendant. But at the age of 58, she received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Soon, the vivacious mother of two and grandmother-to-be was making plans for hospice care. Her older brother Rex Ridenoure was flying to see Alexander when he asked the flight attendant—an old colleague of Alexander’s, as it turned out—if he could speak to the passengers. He talked about his sister, even passed his phone around the plane so they could see photos of her. He then handed out napkins and asked if they’d write a little something for Alexander. Ninety-six passengers responded. Some drew pictures. One man and his seatmate created flowers out of napkins and swizzle sticks. But mostly, there were warm words: “Your brother made me love you, and I don’t even know you.” And “My favorite quote from when I had two brain tumors: ‘You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.’” Alexander died in April of this year, but Ridenoure never forgot the compassion shown that day. “I’m just amazed that given the opportunity, even total strangers will reach out and show a lot of empathy and concern,” he said.
Source: Arizona Republic

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The Donor

Brenda Jones, a 69-year-old great-grandmother, had spent a long year on the donor list waiting to receive a liver. Then, on July 18, a hospital in North Texas called—they had a viable liver for her. Meanwhile, 23-year-old Abigail Flores also needed a liver. Her situation was more urgent than Jones’s. Without a transplant, doctors feared Flores had maybe one more day to live. So they asked Jones to give up her spot so that Flores could get the precious organ. Jones agreed. “In my heart, I wouldn’t have been able to live with the liver if I had let this little girl die,” she told WFAA. Jones was placed back at the top of the donor list and got a new liver days later.

Unflagging Love

In August, Cari and Lauri Ryding came home to find their rainbow flag had been stolen and their house egged. Antihomosexual vandalism wasn’t at all what they expected in their close-knit Natick, Massachusetts, neighborhood. As it turned out, it also wasn’t what their neighbors expected. “We said, ‘Why don’t we all have the flags? They can’t take them from all of us,’” Denis Gaughan told the Boston Globe. Within days, the rainbow flag—the symbol of gay pride—was flying in solidarity with the Rydings on over 40 other homes in this family-friendly area. “One person’s act of fear and maliciousness created such a powerful statement of love,” said Lauri. “Love wins. We win.”

An Anniversary She’ll Never Forget

May 7, 2016, was to have been Yiru Sun’s wedding day. But two months earlier, Sun, a New York City insurance executive, called it off after refusing to sign a prenuptial agreement. Trouble was, she’d put down a nonrefundable deposit on a luxury hall. So, working with nonprofits, she threw a pre-Mother’s Day luncheon for 60 underprivileged kids and their families, none of whom she’d ever met. Sun, outfitted in her wedding dress, mingled and watched kids eat ice pops and have their faces painted. “I cannot be the princess of my wedding day,” she told the New York Post, “but I can give the kids a fairy tale.”

Splitting the Check

Americans donate approximately 2 percent of their disposable income to charity. Then there are Julia Wise and Jeff Kauffman. Since 2008, the couple, now 31 and 30, respectively, have donated half their income to charity, a total of $585,000. “We have what we need, so it makes sense to share with people,” Wise told today.com. Wise, a social worker, and Kauffman, a computer programmer, plan on passing the philanthropy bug to their daughters, two-year-old Lily and six-month-old Anna. “We hope [they’ll] grow up thinking this is a normal part of life,” Wise said.

The Getaway

There was a jailbreak in Parker County, Texas, in June, and a correctional officer is alive because of it. Inmates were awaiting court appearances in a holding cell when the officer watching over them collapsed. The inmates called out for help. When none appeared, they used their collective weight to break down the cell door. Rather than making a run for it, they went to the officer’s aid, still yelling for help. One even tried the officer’s radio. Eventually, guards heard the commotion and came in. After placing the inmates back in their cell, CPR was performed on the stricken officer, saving his life. “It never crossed my mind not to help, whether he’s got a gun or a badge,” inmate Nick Kelton told WFAA. “If he falls down, I’m gonna help.”

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Nov-16-FEA-generosity-oh-baby-US161101GRebekka Garvison/Facebook

Oh, Baby!

Rebekka Garvison could feel the passengers’ eyes rolling as she walked toward her seat carrying her newborn, Rylee. They were flying from Kalamazoo, Michigan, to Fort Rucker, Alabama, where Rebekka’s husband was stationed. Minutes into the flight, Rylee wailed. A nearby couple glared, so Rebekka moved. Rylee was still crying when their seatmate, Nyfesha Miller, asked if she could try holding her. Rylee quickly fell asleep in Miller’s arms and stayed that way throughout the flight. “Nyfesha Miller, you will never understand how happy this act of kindness has made my family,” Rebekka wrote on Facebook. “You could’ve just been irritated like everyone else, but you held Rylee the entire flight and let me get some rest and peace of mind.”
Source: CBS News

A World Away, and Yet So Close

Nigeria is a long way from the Baltimore suburb of Bel Air. Which is why Felicia Ikpum hadn’t seen her son Mike Tersea for four years, ever since he’d left Nigeria on a basketball scholarship to John Carroll School. But with his graduation from John Carroll looming, Tersea’s teachers and classmates thought his mother should be at the ceremony. “We wanted to do something valuable for one of our classmates,” Joe Kyburz, the senior-class president, told the Baltimore Sun. Knowing Ikpum couldn’t afford the plane ticket or hotel, the school raised $1,763 to bring her over. Nigeria can be a dangerous place, and Ikpum traveled 12 hours through terrorist-held land to make the flight. What was her reaction when she laid eyes on her son after four years? “I screamed, I shouted!”

Black and White And Blue

Prayer broke out all over this summer—Walmart aisles, gas stations, roadsides. In a Columbus, Georgia, Walmart, an African American man walked up to a white police officer, and within seconds, the two were holding hands with heads bowed in prayer. In Kentucky, a homeless man and a cop were photographed in a similar position. “They stood this way for about 30 seconds,” said the woman who posted the photograph. In Mississippi, Deputy Sheriff Josh Harmon posted on Facebook: “Had one of the most amazing experiences of my life. [An elderly black woman] comes up to me and says, ‘Your life matters. Can I pray with you?’ And we prayed. And people joined in. They were black, white together. There was no hate. It was just praying.”
Source: goodnewsnetwork.org

Flower Power

When my husband was hospitalized for almost a year, my house was left to fend for itself. One day, I came home from another long day by my husband’s bedside to discover our flower boxes brimming with beautiful flowers. A neighbor did this for me. She wanted me to have something nice to look at when I came home.
Ruth Bilotta, Churchville, Pennsylvania

Paying It Forward—Literally

Thirty years ago, my world almost fell apart. I had surgery, was fired, and was informed by the IRS that my employer had not paid employment taxes. After a few weeks, I saw a flyer about a Japanese festival. Although a physical and emotional wreck, I decided to go. There, I met a Japanese gentleman with whom I chatted for hours. A few months later, I came home to find a bouquet of flowers and a letter at my door. It was from that same friend. Inside the letter was a check for $10,000 to help me through my rough patch. Sixteen year later, I met a family that had been evicted from their home and needed $5,000 to close the escrow on a new house. Without hesitation, I handed them a check for the full amount. They call me their angel, but I remind them that I, too, once had an angel.
Hassmik Mahdessian, Glendale, California

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Pro Bono Gardening

I am a widow who suffers from allergies and mobility problems, and I don’t have the luxury of having family nearby. Thankfully, I have a kind teenager to do my yard work. One evening, I asked if he’d mind doing some extra work around the house. When I tried to tip him afterward, he refused. “You’re going to spoil me,” I said. Kyle answered, “Somebody needs to.”
Marjorie Ann Smith, Westfield, Indiana

The Heavenly Job Reference

I used to work as a nurse’s aide in a hospital, where I befriended an elderly patient. We shared stories and jokes—I even revealed to her my lifelong dream of being an illustrator. Once, after I told her about my sorrowfully tiny apartment and cheap furniture, she said, “Maybe one day a good leprechaun will come and help you.” Soon after, she passed away. A few days later, there was a knock on my door. It was her son with a truckload of furniture for me. It had belonged to his mother, and she wanted me to have it. And then he handed me this note: “Betty, I promise to put in a good word for you in Heaven so you can get the job you’ve always wanted.” Three months later, I got an illustrating job. My friend had kept her promise.
Betty Tenney, Sterling Heights, Michigan

Sharing in the Rain

I was running through the streets of New York, soaking wet thanks to a sudden storm, when I heard a voice: “Do you need an umbrella?” It was a woman standing in the doorway of a hotel. She grabbed an umbrella and handed it to me, saying, “Now you have at least one more reason to believe there’s humanity in this world.” Continuing on my way, I was now not only protected by an umbrella but also by the kindness that shows up now and then in the world.
Raimo Moysa, North Salem, New York

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