These Random Acts of Kindness Will Inspire You to Pass It On

From donating a kidney to writing letters to seniors, these incredible Canadians made a difference this past year.

The Good Samaritans Who Found a Stolen Teddy Bear

Vancouver | When 29-year-old storyboard artist Mara Soriano thinks of her mother, Marilyn, she remembers her singing. “She loved karaoke and cheesy ’80s songs,” Soriano says. “She sang all the time.” In late 2017, before cancer robbed Soriano’s mom of her voice, she recorded a message in English and Tagalog and preserved it inside a Build-a-Bear: “You make Mommy so proud. No matter where you are, a part of me will always be with you. I love you to infinity and beyond.”

After her mother’s death in 2019 at age 53, that teddy bear became Soriano’s most priceless possession. When it went missing during a move last July—tucked in a backpack that got stolen in the chaos of unloading the U-Haul van—Soriano was devastated. She spent that night frantically rifling through dumpsters and scouring alleys in downtown Vancouver. When her efforts proved fruitless, she took her hunt to the Internet, sharing photos of her lost Mamabear on Reddit and Instagram, and security footage on Twitter. A local CBC reporter picked up the story, and the news made it all the way to a high-profile Vancouverite: actor Ryan Reynolds, who encouraged his 17 million-plus Twitter followers to help Soriano, offering a $5,000 reward for the keepsake’s safe return.

Amazingly, Mamabear made it back to Soriano’s arms four days later, ferried by some good Samaritans who recognized the thief from security footage Soriano had shared on social media. Soriano was ecstatic: “I feel like losing that bear and getting it back was just my mom telling me, ‘The world is okay, kid. You’re going to be fine. I will always be with you.’”

The Facebook Group That Brightens People’s Days With Rocks

Hope, British Columbia | For France Legere, it was two cats on a fence. For Melissa Stevenson, it was a Mother’s Day message. Stevenson and Legere discovered their Kindness Rocks—brightly decorated stones inscribed with thoughtful words, sealed against the weather and left at random spots for strangers to find—in spring 2019. Their curiosity soon led them to join the Facebook page of their local Kindness Rocks chapter.

In pre-COVID times, the group gathered to chat, decorate and hide their stones. While they no longer hide the rocks as a group, the practice (and its online home) has remained an essential point of connection. One of Stevenson’s proudest moments, she says, came in January, after the community in nearby Mission, B.C., rallied to support a transgender youth who’d been bullied at school.

“I did a big set of rocks in the colours of the trans flag,” she says, noting that the group has also produced talismans to reflect the Black Lives Matter movement and LGBTQ pride—small gifts to be stumbled upon by people who can benefit from the message of support. “It pulls people out of their shell,” says Legere. “It finds people when they really need to be found, or heard, or seen.”

Edith GeorgePhoto: Angela Lewis
Edith George has protected the massive oak for more than a decade.

The Nature Lover Who Saved a 300-Year-Old Tree

Toronto | In the residential neighbourhood of Humbermede, a massive 300-year-old red oak presides over the backyard of an unassuming bungalow. But three years ago, when the owner of the house decided to sell, the looming tree was judged a threat to the house’s structural safety. A neighbour named Edith George, who’s been the oak’s advocate and protector for more than a decade, collected $430,000 from more than 1,000 people. It was enough to convince the City of Toronto to match that money to buy the house and transform the property into a park. For George, the endeavour was simple: she refers to the tree as Zhelevo, a nod to her ancestral village in Macedonia, and calls it “my paradise.” Her hope is to share that paradise with her fellow citizens.

The Teacher Who Returned Lost Diaries

Havelock, New Brunswick | In 1988, 11-year-old Austin Hutton scrawled a message on his stapled, handwritten diary: “MY DIARY. Top secret. KEEP OUT!” The diary was an assignment from his Grade 6 teacher, Hugh Brittain, at Havelock Elementary School. While most students took their diaries home at the end of the school year, some forgot, and Brittain held on to them—just in case.

Hutton’s diary was one of the 26 that Brittain still had when he retired in 1995. Earlier this year, he posted a message to a local Facebook group hoping to reunite the notebooks with their owners. And slowly, with the help of a few friendly sleuths, he did.

Hutton, now 45 and living in Fort St. John, B.C., has four children of his own. His hands shook when he opened the package from Brittain. He had no memory of what he had written but was delighted to rediscover the stuff of childhood. Hutton says having his diary back gave him a chance not only to reconnect with his former self, but to show his kids a side of their dad they’d never seen before—a young boy dreaming of buying a bike, gaga over his school crush and just trying to figure out life.

Random acts of kindness pass it on - Haley MoorePhoto: Rémi Thériault
“It was scary! Thank God for Clover,” says Haley Moore.

The Dog Who Rescued Her Owner

Stittsville, Ontario | There are good dogs, and then there’s Clover. This past March, the floofy white Maremma mix was out for her daily walk with her 25-year-old owner, Haley Moore, when, as the two were about to cross the street, Moore had a seizure and collapsed.

While untrained for the situation, Clover nevertheless switched into protection mode. First, she walked in a circle, sussing out the situation; next, she flipped Moore onto her back and freed the leash. Then, Clover tried to alert passing drivers. “This dog doesn’t like cars,” says Diane Moore, Haley’s mother. “She gets carsick. But there she was, trying to make eye contact with people driving by. She moved right into the centre of the road.”

Dryden Oatway, a 22-year-old tow-truck driver, spotted the dog, parked his vehicle and rushed to Moore; he and a neighbour promptly called the paramedics. Clover then started to return to their nearby home, looking back often to ensure Haley was in good hands. Once she was at her door, Clover started barking and wouldn’t stop until Haley’s father, Randall, and 21-year-old sister, Reilly, followed her. By the time they reached Haley, paramedics had arrived.

“All I really remember is waking up in an ambulance and being really confused,” says Moore. “It was scary! Thank God for Clover.”

The Moore family doesn’t know what caused Haley’s seizure, but thankfully, it has not happened again. And Clover is just happy that her family is safe and sound. “As an animal lover, I’ve always sensed that animals were just as extraordinary as humans,” says Diane. “We feel very blessed to have her in our lives, and I truly hope she feels the same way.”

The Family Who Spread Cheer with Birdhouses

Georgetown, Ontario | This past February, hundreds of charming candy-coloured birdhouses appeared in parks, schoolyards and outside the windows of long-term care homes. The surprise was the masterwork of the aptly named Champ family: after seeing how his wife, Carol, was buoyed by the birdhouses he gave her for Christmas, Jamie Champ decided he should do the same for his neighbours, too.

Along with their daughter, Madison, the couple spent the next few weeks building the small wonders, each one decorated with inspirational words (“smile,” “go for a walk” and “we’re in this together”). The Champs then set out around 10:30 p.m. to surreptitiously install all 201 houses around town. Anything to help lift spirits during a hard year.

Wolfgang and one of his Wolfpack play together on the boy's third birthdayPhoto: Courtesy of Julia Wehkamp
Wolfgang and one of his Wolfpack play together on the boy’s third birthday.

The Sanitation Workers Who Pulled Off a Birthday Surprise

Toronto | On Friday mornings, three-year-old Wolfgang Reader sits on his front porch and waits for the truck to come. Like a lot of kids his age, Wolfgang is a big fan of garbage trucks. He plays with his toy garbage trucks, draws garbage trucks, and wants to be a sanitation worker when he grows up. And the workers who pass his home on their route couldn’t help but notice his enthusiasm.

“I began to blow the truck’s horn. You would hear it all the way down the road,” says 32-year-old Feranza Fullwood, who goes by D.J. When they could, the men would stop to play with the boy and chat with the family—at a safe distance, of course. They even started calling themselves the Wolfpack.

Last September, as Wolfgang’s third birthday approached, his family knew they wouldn’t be able to throw a party because of the pandemic. Wolfgang’s grandmother crossed her fingers and asked the City of Toronto if a garbage truck could do a special off-schedule visit on his birthday. The family was surprised and delighted when not one but four trucks came clanging down the street.

“Wolfgang was speechless,” says the boy’s mom, Julia Wehkamp. The crew brought gifts: hats, colouring books and specially made Wolfpack T-shirts. Wolfgang even got to honk the horn of a truck. Wehkamp says he still talks about it to anyone who’ll listen.

“I have a kid who’s the same age as Wolfy,” says Fullwood. “When I see a kid who’s really interested in my job, I do my best to ensure he’s happy and make his day.” Close to a year later, Wolfgang is still obsessed with garbage trucks—and Fullwood still honks the horn for him every Friday.

The Cashier Who Inspired a Teacher to Pay It Forward

Kamloops, British Columbia | Dee-Anna Irwin, a single mom who has worked at a dollar store for eight years, always keeps spare change to pay for customers’ small costs. She didn’t think twice about covering the bill this past March when Dina Chase, a high-school teacher, arrived to buy snacks for her students. “If she’s going to make this much of an effort to look out for those kids, it’s the least I can do,” says Irwin.

Moved, Chase went on Facebook to ask for suggestions on how to thank Irwin. Ideas—and donations—poured in. When Chase returned to the store, she took nearly $200 in gift cards, three pages of kind words, a potted plant and a heartfelt card. “What I learned,” says Chase, “is that we need to slow down, notice others, value people, take the time.” True to form, Irwin has saved the gift cards to pass along to others in need.

The Hockey Mom Who Donated a Kidney

Seaforth, Ontario | To many families in town, Graham Nesbitt is a hero. For years, Nesbitt managed Seaforth’s arena. He’d arrive at the crack of dawn every day so kids could lace up and get on the ice before school. He was even out there on snow days.

Two of those kids were Ryan and Cal O’Reilly, who both went on to play hockey professionally: Cal is now in the American Hockey League, and Ryan is the captain of the St. Louis Blues. When the O’Reilly family heard Nesbitt was in need of a kidney transplant, they wanted to help.

The brothers put out a call for donors. Their mom, Bonnie, took things further. She offered to be the donor. “My kids have been lucky to have good fortune and good people in their lives,” says O’Reilly. “Graham was one of those people.”

The successful operation took place in March 2021, and today both parties are doing well. No longer tied to a dialysis machine, Nesbitt has been able to take up golf again. Bonnie and Nesbitt keep in touch, and she’s glad her kidney gave him a chance to see his grandkids grow up. “It feels really good to give your good health to someone.”

Random acts of kindness pass it on - Allison YoungPhoto: Greg Locke
Allison Young didn’t want seniors to be lonely during lockdown.

The Teen Who Became a Pen Pal to Seniors

Cupids, Newfoundland | When 13-year-old Allison Young was given a “good deed” assignment at school this past March, she immediately thought of the seniors living in the long-term care facility where her mom, Rebecca, works as a nurse. She worried many were feeling lonely during the lockdown, and she wanted to cheer them up. “My grandmother lives in another retirement home, and I like writing her letters,” says Young. “I know she likes getting them, and I thought other people would, too.”

So she started writing to each of the home’s 124 residents. Her letters were simple and cheery: she introduced herself, shared who her mom was, and told recipients she hoped to brighten their day. She doesn’t remember how long it took, but she remembers being determined to finish.

In the end, Young even gained a few new pen pals. Several residents wrote back to share their life stories and ask her about school and her hobbies. She told them that she loves to sew and dance. One of the letters she received stretched to four pages, telling her about the letter writer’s former career as a doctor and experiences travelling the world. Young loved reading the responses. “Older people,” she says, “have the best stories and advice.”

The Driver Who Prevented a Suicide

Montreal | At 8:30 a.m. on the morning of September 23, 2020, Rodrick Rodney, then 46, was driving home after a night shift at a warehouse. He was stopped at a red light at an overpass when he saw a man in a car ahead of him exit the passenger side door and run towards a railing, which overlooks a busy expressway below. Rodney realized the man was going to jump. He didn’t think, just moved, shouting one word over and over: No, no, no!

Today, Rodney doesn’t remember how he made it from his truck to the man, but an onlooker told him he moved so fast she couldn’t tell if he was running or flying. The man was sitting on the railing, and just as he began to let himself go, Rodney grabbed his shirt collar. “His shirt started tearing off,” remembers Rodney. “While I’m pulling up, it’s leaving my hand. So I leap up and grab his pants. Now I am dangling over the highway, trying to pull him up.”

Luckily, two quick-acting bystanders rushed to help Rodney, and he was able to pull the other man to safety. “That man could’ve lost his life,” says Rodney. “I could’ve lost my life, too.” The man and his family have since been in touch with Rodney to thank him for his courage. “I just know I was in the right place at the right time,” says Rodney. “And I just did it.”

Next, here are the incredible Canadian women you didn’t learn about in history class.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada