The kindness of strangers

The coronavirus pandemic means this has been a year that few will look back on fondly. But what it will be remembered for are the acts of kindness shown by people who simply wanted to do something to help others in their local communities.

Season’s greetings from across the globe

Leo Sheppard wanted to make this Christmas special for her 92-year-old grandmother, Nancy. Like many elderly people, she was facing a lonely festive season because of coronavirus, and with many of her friends having passed away, her tally of Christmas cards was looking bleak.

Sheppard put out a request on Facebook asking people to send her granny a Christmas card and was overwhelmed by the response: more than 200 cards have already arrived, and from much farther afield than her hometown of Fife.

“Cards have come from everywhere – not just from Scotland, but from right across the UK, Europe, America and New Zealand,” says Leo. “To see how lovely and beautiful people really are to take the time to do this for my wee gran is fantastic, and I’m eternally grateful.”

An Advent of kindness

An online ‘community kindness Advent’ being run by Larne Area Community Support Group has also benefited from the generosity of strangers.

The group was founded by Lynsey Poole at the beginning of Northern Ireland’s first lockdown in March to provide support to those in need. Within a week it had more than 4,500 members. Through its Facebook page, the group will post a new ‘task of kindness’ every day from December 1 to Christmas Eve, reaching all areas of the community, from care homes and local charities to local food banks and toy appeals.

Poole says: “So far we have some musicians who want to stream live to uplift people; mindfulness and relaxation techniques from a local yoga teacher; and busking zoom sessions with an amazing group called ‘Ghostbuskers’. This year has been so difficult for everyone, and I feel that now, more than ever, it is important to support others and spread kindness in different ways.”

A wish for the day

Residents at Gloucestershire care home Aura Care Living are having their Christmas wishes granted by people they’ve never met. Their written requests were placed on a ‘wishing tree’, and as word got around about the initiative, the care home in Cirencester was inundated with calls from people wanting to help out.

One lady got her wish of being able to “see a horse and stroke her nose” when a local resident arranged for her to meet, feed, and walk a horse around the care home grounds. Another resident, who dreamed of riding in a Ferrari, was taken for a spin by a generous stranger who turned up with an 800bhp 812 GTS. Some famous faces also made dreams come true, with Sir Cliff Richard, Pam Ayres and Olympian Eddie the Eagle all sending video messages to delighted residents.

Feeding the community

Businesses, too, have responded generously in response to the impact of coronavirus on their own operations by doing good deeds for others. Everyone remembers the images of exhausted NHS frontline workers finding the supermarket shelves empty after finishing their long shifts. That, coupled with the lockdown of the hospitality sector, prompted chef Mary-Ellen McTague into action. Along with fellow Manchester businesswomen Kathleen O’Connor and Gemma Saunders, she launched the Eat Well MCR collective.

This year has been so difficult for everyone, and I feel that now, more than ever, it is important to support others and spread kindness in different ways

Lynsey Poole
Founder, Larne Area Community Support Group

Comprising hospitality professionals and volunteers from all sectors, it started with local businesses that were closed being asked to volunteer to cook some of the food they couldn’t serve to customers and deliver it to NHS wards. It now supports several groups and charities in need. Since April, the collective has prepared and delivered 24,000 meals to people facing challenging circumstances in the Greater Manchester area.

“The professional chefs who’ve been cooking the meals are amazing,” says O’Connor. “Even when restaurants were able to reopen in July, the chefs continued to provide meals for Eat Well. They work so hard, and put so much care and attention into preparing high-quality meals to make people feel they are being looked after.”

Helping vulnerable members of society

Social Bite is a chain of cafes with branches in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen that gives away 140,000 free food and drink items each year to people experiencing homelessness. When the coronavirus lockdown started in March, the entire organisation pivoted to provide emergency free food packs to people in food poverty. Seven months on, they have distributed more than 540,000 packs across Scotland.

However, disruption to the hospitality industry left Social Bite’s cafes and catering delivery business struggling, so it has developed a new product, Box of Joy Brownies. These handmade, beautifully packaged treats offer the ideal gifting opportunity, allowing customers to introduce friends and family to the cause, with profits from sales supporting Social Bite’s charitable work.

In times of uncertainty, giving back to those less fortunate than ourselves can even act as an antidote to our own stresses. Mindset coach Ruth Kudzi says: “Doing something kind is a coping mechanism that many people turn to – choosing joy, bringing some happiness during dark times, and finding some positivity amid this pandemic. Research has shown that if you want to feel calmer, positive and optimistic, helping others can help you greatly.”

So go on, plan your own act of kindness. It could make someone’s year.

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