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Stories of Good Deeds

Acts of kindness and generosity come in many different forms: Giving food to a hungry stranger, donating one's time to aid homeless people or helping a fellow tenant make the rent. But it's their ability to touch us and stick in our memories that makes sometimes even small gestures a powerful and lasting force in our lives.

Last month, Morning Edition invited listeners to share stories about "good deeds" they had witnessed or heard about. NPR's Susan Stamberg reports on some of the many responses that came in. And npr.org offers a few stories that did not make it on the air.

After the Storm

Beverly Jordan witnessed an extraordinary act of generosity after Hurricane Andrew slammed into South Florida in 1992, leaving a wide path of destruction in its path. Jordan, a nurse, volunteered to go door to door in Miami delivering emergency relief.

Her relief van pulled up to a house that was nothing but a shell. She asked the young owners if they needed anything. "They said, 'No, but can you wait a minute here?' They came back out with a case of diapers and four or five bags of food and said, 'Would you please give this to somebody who needs it worse than we do?'"

Jordan says she never got the couple's name and wishes that she could thank them for their generosity.

The Most Memorable Christmas

Amy Scharman of Mapleton, Utah, remembered the Christmas after her parents divorced. Her mother was raising 13 kids with no child support. The holiday was looking pretty grim.

"It was about dusk on Christmas Eve and we heard a knock on the back door," Scharman says. When they opened it, no one was there. But someone had left 10 big bags filled with presents for the children, including clothes and toys.

"It was such an overwhelming feeling to see such generosity from I don't even know who it was," she says. Ten years later, Scharman and her family still don't know who did that good deed. Amy Scharman ends her note, "If you're out there, thank you for making that Christmas the most memorable of all."

A Mother's Good Example

Sometimes witnessing a good deed leaves a lasting impression. Donna Delfino Dugay of Harper Woods, Mich., remembers a day in California when she was 11 years old, and her parents took their six children for a special day at the beach. Donna's mother brought a picnic lunch — fried chicken and her famous potato salad — and prepared a plate for each of them.

"When I looked up from my plate, my mother was fixing one more plate... She turned away from us and walked over maybe 20 or 30 feet to where there was a man by himself. And he was picking his way through the trashcan. And my mother — I don't know whether she just put the plate there or whether she touched him gently or whether she said a few words — but I remember him turning to her in a gesture of thankfulness."

Dugay's mother came back and sat down at the table. "Years later, Dugay asked her mother if she remembered the incident. "She laughed and said, 'Not at all.' But for me, I remember it very well because for me, it was the touchstone for what good deeds became in my life."

Never Too Young to Help

Many listeners wrote of the generosity of very young people, Stamberg reports. Four-year-old Justin Dingman took the hand of a frightened fellow pre-schooler, serving as the welcoming committee on the boy's first day at school. Liadan Susoeff, 7, took books to a shelter in Pittsburgh at holiday time and read to the children there. Eight-year-old Luke O'Neill took one of his own coats to school so a less fortunate classmate could go outside at recess.

'A King's Ransom'

Peter Strupp of Boston remembers being "flat broke" his senior year at the University of Wisconsin. When he could no longer afford the rent at his fraternity, he found refuge in a campus Christian fellowship house.

Strupp would sneak into the kitchen to take food bought by his fellow tenants. "Inevitably the month came that I couldn't make the rent...

"The night before I was going to tell my housemates I was leaving, one of them stopped me in the kitchen. We were alone... He reached into his pocket and handed me a month's rent, in cash. Before I could say anything, he said, 'Don't pay me back.' Though the rent was less than $100, Strupp writes, "in a dark hour, it was a king's ransom."

Kindness in Passing

A simple act of kindness on a hot day nearly 50 years ago left a lasting memory for Dan Sullivan.

"There is hardly anything more boring than traveling in a military convoy," Sullivan writes. "In late 1955, a deuce-and-a-half truck filled with a dozen GIs and I were crawling across northern Iowa. It was hot, even with the canvas sides rolled up. There were no stops for sodas, and the 30 thirsty miles per hour took us nowhere forever. One of the few entertainments was watching an occasional car pass, so when a convertible pulled in behind, we took notice — even more notice when the beautiful woman in the passenger seat waved and smiled. And oh, miracle, she reached back into a cooler and pulled out two bottles of ice-cold Royal Crown Cola, which she passed up to us as they went by. Wherever that woman is, I hope she sleeps well tonight."

Giving at Work

David Hutmacher of Marietta, Ga., wrote of the generosity he received from co-workers when he became seriously ill three years ago. After three hospital stays, including two surgeries, he had used up all of his vacation and sick leave.

"It was the end of the year and my last paycheck at the first of December was for approximately 10 percent of its usual amount. I was worried it was fast approaching Christmas and I wouldn't be going back to work until mid-January at the earliest. I am married and have two daughters who at that time were 8 and 5, respectively. My wife, who is a schoolteacher, was just barely keeping things together. I really didn't think there would be much if any Christmas that year. So I was very surprised when on the 15th of December I received a paycheck. When I opened it there was not only a full pay period but also the pay I was missing from the previous check. I immediately called our comptroller for an explanation. It seems that all the employees had gotten together and donated any vacation that they had left for the year so I could get paid. I cried. It was truly a Good Deed."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

United States & World Morning Edition
Nationally renowned broadcast journalist Susan Stamberg is a special correspondent for NPR.