AN ACT OF KINDNESS TRANSFORMED MY LIFE
It started with a box of chocolates. But Lucy didn’t receive it – she gave it. And it was the first of many acts of kindness that gave her far more than anyone on the receiving end.
My own personal kindness project began a few years ago when I found myself wanting to connect with people more. So I decided to do small acts of kindness to see if I could make people smile and start a conversation. I started with the cleaner at my local train station, who no one ever seems to notice or speak to unless it’s to ask the way or the time. I thought he could do with a gift, and I told him so as I handed him a box of chocolates. Taken aback, he just beamed.
“Two women who’d lived a few doors down from each other for 30 years had never spoken before”
Having grown up in Wales, I sometimes find living in a big city can be a bit anonymous. Unless you make a real effort, you never get to know anyone. I’ve lived in the same London flat that faces onto a busy road for years. It wasn’t until we organised a Big Lunch (an Eden Project initiative) in our shared back garden that all the neighbours in my road got to know each other. Many are now good friends. Two women who’d lived a few doors down from each other for 30 years had never spoken before – now they’re mates who go to the pub quiz together. This showed me how important it is to create connections and get people to open up.
After the chocolates experiment I felt the urge to do more to make a difference. I didn’t always have time or money to give to charities, so I decided to try out little acts of kindness. The aim was simple – to spread a little joy.
I’d make a conscious effort to smile at people just walking down the street, or give them small gifts. I’m a photographer and I would take portraits of strangers and send them a print in the post (encouraging other people via my Facebook page to take part through the NOWportrait project). I’d write little quotes by Maya Angelou and Roald Dahl and leave them behind a bag of potatoes in the supermarket, just a little message for people to find that might make them smile. I didn’t mind that I didn’t get to see people’s reaction – that wasn’t the point. I just wanted to share the kindness vibe.
Once I was on the tube and I challenged myself to share a box of chocolates with the other passengers. It took a few stops before I could do it. I handed the box to the woman next to me and said “Do you want a chocolate?” After she’d got over the shock and taken one, I asked her to pass it down the carriage. Soon everyone was chatting to each other.
“Once on the tube I challenged myself to share a box of chocolates with the other passengers”>
This helped me be more brave about approaching people I wouldn’t normally talk to and I did it more and more. I had some of the most amazing conversations as a result. And hopefully, with the acts of kindness, I made a difference to people’s day in a small way.
I shared these acts on my Facebook wall which soon inspired other people to do the same. I set up a Facebook group called The Kindness Project and it grew really fast, with people posting acts of kindness they’d spotted. One of them called Kat mentioned the Rucksack Project, which involved filling rucksacks with useful stuff and giving them to homeless people.
Inspired by the Rucksack Project, that Christmas we decided to do rucksacks for homeless women in London and other people in the Facebook group joined in with enthusiasm. Soon there were 12 of us working on Kindness Bags.
We thought about all the things women have to deal with on the streets, being more vulnerable. There was a homeless women staying in the doorway near me, and through getting to know her I realised it’s not always about giving money. I took her a little cake on her birthday and a cup of hot chocolate when it was really cold, and she really appreciated both. She told me that when she needs the toilet, she goes all the way to Euston station, miles away, and it hadn’t occurred to me how hard things like that would be if you were homeless. And how do you deal with periods? Receiving gifts of the right toiletries and clothes would make life much easier.
“We thought about all the things women have to deal with on the streets, being more vulnerable”
Our Kindness Bags project grew fast. With drop-off points (our own flats) in North, South, East and West London, that first year we donated 80 bags to the Crisis Christmas Women’s Refuge. Many told me the £35 they’d spent on their bag and contents was the best present they’d bought that year because they knew it was going to be useful.
Filling the bags with genuinely useful items was so important. Toiletries, clothes, but also torches, sweets and a gift item, like face cream. Postcards with a stamp and a pen to make contact with family and friends. Cards with messages from us saying “Someone’s thinking of you this Christmas”. The feedback from the hostels was that a lot of the women were very moved.
All the money raised through our Just Giving page went into the bags or towards van hire to get the bags to their destination – or directly to the charities.
Last year was huge. We collected 480 bags around London and Greater London, using the school hall where Sam, one of our team, worked as a drop-off point. So many volunteers came and helped us sort and fill the bags. Luckily we had vans loaned to us for free by hire car companies. These things make a difference.
“In other circumstances I could easily be one of these women, relying on the kindness of strangers”
You can end up homeless quicker than you think. This year, being self-employed, I’ve had to rely on my savings while recovering from major surgery, and they’ve dwindled very quickly. I’m lucky to have friends and family to help me. In other circumstances I could easily be one of these women, relying on hostels and the kindness of strangers.
I never imagined when I first made a gesture of kindness that things would mushroom so fast, but I think people really do want to make a difference, to connect with humanity. Kindness spreads so fast when you put it out there, and I love enabling people to do something to give back.
If you feel inspired to start your own ‘giving back’ project, you’ll be amazed at how much goodwill there is. Look at the need in yourself and start a group that answers that need and hopefully helps others too. It will motivate you to do things you never imagined possible.
Words: Marina Gask
If you would like to donate a bag this year there are drop off points all over London as well as Essex and Kent, so contact them through https://www.facebook.com/groups/bagsofkindness/. Or make a donation to Kindness Bags through the Just Giving page https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/kindnessbags2019/.
With huge thanks to the Kindness Bags Team: Lucy Williams, Kat Hill, Yolande de Vries, Samantha O’Brien, Vicki Baumann and all of our volunteers.