by Julie Bonnell, director of operations, for our Random Acts of Kindness blog series

In what is quickly becoming a cherished HRG tradition, a number of us headed out into our community late last year with a pocket full of small bills to engage in our Random Acts of Kindness Challenge.

I decided I wanted to focus on my neighborhood. I live in an urban neighborhood that is very walkable with small shops, artists, many restaurants, and even a bowling alley and a movie theatre.  I walk 3 miles daily, and am usually greeted with a smile by a number of people along the way, as well as get to stop to pet friendly dogs on their daily walks. One day, while on one of my walks, it occurred to me that I don’t really know these neighbors I see day in and day out.

My first chance to alter this situation was purchasing a cup of coffee for a bus driver who was on a layover and just coming into the busy roaster shop. I gave the money to the barista as I bought a bag of beans. She thanked me for the driver but it really was a perfunctory exchange. I am sure it was appreciated but it wasn’t the engagement I was hoping for.

The second chance was at a soup market. I walked in to buy a gift card. In front of me in line at the counter was a young man I had seen a few times and am sure I have nodded to him more than once. As he ordered a grilled cheese sandwich I leaned forward and placed the bills a grilled cheese sandwichbetween him and the server. I said, “I’ve got this.” He quickly responded, “No, I can pay.” With a huge smile I stated, “Please really, I want to…let me give you a smile today.” At this, he gave me a huge grin and started talking to me about his 6 year-old son who he was about to share that sandwich with as they did every Saturday. I commented his son was so very lucky to have him as a dad who made time for him. We chatted for another 5 minutes. When my card was purchased and his sandwich and drinks were ready, he gave me the best smile and a huge heartfelt hug. Now this was what I was looking for – a chance to get to know HIM.

The last chance was a week later. Same coffee shop where I started. It’s a great roaster and always busy. This day, even more so with tables full of one or two people, most with heads in their phones or laptops, while two baristas were racing between the drip stations and pastry counter. Behind me in line, four people back, were the two beat officers who walk my neighborhood on the weekends. I handed the barista money and asked her to provide the officers whatever they wanted then went to wait for my coffee to be made. The officers made it to the front of the line and one stepped away to come and thank me. I told her that I saw her walking the neighborhood and knew it had to be cold being out there. With that, she smiled and blushed, and went back to her partner. There was money left over from their purchase, and the barista started walking over to give it to me, but I shook my head and pointed to her tip jar. That’s when it all started to go viral. People in the shop stopped being engaged in their tech. They smiled at each other, some even began to talk to each other. And the barista decided to also pay it forward by sharing a couple “free cup” cards with a shop patron. The smiles in the shop were priceless as people began to really SEE each other. Job done.

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