These days, it seems like incredible acts of kindness are few and far in between. However, when they do happen, it’s important that we celebrate them. Not only to celebrate the individual committing the gesture of generosity, but also to hopefully inspire others to carry out similar good works. The acts of kindness we rounded up here are borne out of a diverse range of circumstances, but what they hold in common is that they demonstrate the inherent altruistic spirit and its power to effect positivity on the world.
1. Protecting People at All Costs
During World War II, German industrialist Oskar Schindler saved the lives of over 1,000 Jews by employing them in his various factories. Schindler bribed Nazi officials with large sums of money and luxury goods in order to protect his workers from being sent to the concentration camps and their likely deaths. Schindler nearly spent his entire fortune on bribes to ensure the safety of his employees.
Schindler’s courageous story was portrayed in the 1982 novel Schindler’s Ark, written by Thomas Keneally, and the book’s subsequent 1993 Oscar-winning film adaptation, Schindler’s List, directed by Steven Spielberg. The part of Oskar Schindler was played by Liam Neeson.
2. In Service of Future Generations
Following the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, a group of over 400 elderly and retired engineers banded together to resolve the crisis. The group, who called themselves the Skilled Veteran Corps, believed that the radiation exposure would be less of a concern to older people, as younger people would likely face many more years, if not decades, of health issues related to radiation exposure.
3. The Human Life Preserver
Harold Lowe was an officer of the British Merchant Navy aboard the RMS Titanic during its fateful maiden voyage. Lowe initially led one of the many lifeboats that transported shipwrecked passengers to safety. After the ship began to founder, he then arranged a flotilla of lifeboats to pick up even more passengers. Lowe then courageously took one of the lifeboats to where the ship had sunk and attempted to rescue people out of the water.
He managed to rescue four men, and though one died, the three others lived. Lowe’s lifeboat was one of only two to return to the scene of the shipwreck.
4. Helping Others in Need of Transplants
Anthony Nolan was born in the UK in 1971 with a rare condition called Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, which required a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, none of his family members were a match. With bone marrow transplants between non-related persons still new, Anthony’s mother Shirley decided to set up a bone marrow register that would help people find life-saving transplants.
Although the register wasn’t able to save Anthony, who died in 1979 at the age of eight, it has helped thousands of patients suffering from blood cancers and other diseases to find donor transplants. Today, the register, now simply known as Anthony Nolan, contains over 700,000 potential donors.
5. Tackling for Relief
After Hurricane Harvey ravaged through Houston, Texas in the summer of 2017, All-Pro linebacker JJ Watt of the Houston Texans stepped up in a huge way. He coordinated an online crowdfunding campaign for hurricane relief efforts. The final tally of donations came out to a whopping $41.6 million, well over the original goal of $200,000. Watt personally donated $100,000 to the relief efforts.
6. An Amazing American
Harriet Tubman was a titan in the abolitionist movement that sought to end slavery in the United States. After escaping slavery herself in 1849, Tubman would undertake 13 brave missions to rescue about 70 slaves using the Underground Railroad. Tubman, who was nicknamed Moses for her heroic efforts, would often do her work under the cover of night. She hid messages in songs, whose tempos and lyrics offered codes to guide the escaped slaves to freedom in the Northern states and also British North America (now Canada).
Neither Tubman nor any of the slaves she helped were ever captured.
7. The Olympic Spirit
Every now and then, a great Olympic moment happens that transcends the gold, silver, and bronze medals. One of the highlights of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro came in the heats of the women’s 5000m race. New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin stumbled and caused American Abbey D’Agostino to fall with her. D’Agostino was the first to get up and helped Hamblin to her feet, only to later realize that she had suffered a serious knee injury herself.
D’Agostino collapsed onto the track and this time it was Hamblin who helped her up to her feet. Both runners completed the race, with D’Agostino in considerable pain. The organizers decided that the two compassionate athletes should have a place in the final, though D’Agostino was unable to compete. They were later awarded Fair Play Awards from the International Fair Play Committee.
8. A Selfless Act from the Greatest of All-Time
The biggest news item on the morning of September 11, 2001, before the fateful terrorist attacks that would forever change our world, was the return of Michael Jordan. The greatest basketball player of all time and one of the world’s most famous athletes would be ending his retirement and returning to the NBA as a member of the Washington Wizards.
A few weeks later, Jordan announced that he would be donating his entire $1 million player’s salary for the 2001-02 season to 9/11 relief efforts.
9. Helping a Man Get to Work
Detroit resident James Robertson’s incredibly arduous daily commute made headlines across the world. Robertson walked about 19 miles each day to get to and from work. Blake Pollock noticed Robertson trudge along and decided to bring his story to the attention of local newspaper the Detroit Free Press. The ensuing article inspired student Evan Leedy to start a crowdfunding campaign for Robertson.
The campaign raised over $350,000 for the Detroiter and a local car dealership even gifted him with a brand new car. Perhaps most importantly, Robertson’s story highlighted the large gaps in public transit coverage in the Detroit Metro Area. In response, the local transit authorities announced plans to restore service to formerly canceled and limited routes.
10. Teddy Has a Memorable Birthday
Teddy Mazzini was looking forward to spending his sixth birthday party hanging out with his friends, eating pizza, and playing arcade games. However, none of his friends showed up. Mazzini’s mom decided to upload an image of her son being noticeably forlorn on social media. The ensuing post attracted a lot of well-wishers and young Teddy was showered with birthday cards and do-over parties.
He was celebrated by a local radio station and was even invited by the Phoenix Suns to attend a game, where he slapped hands with the players as they took the court.
11. An Understanding and Thoughtful Gesture
Iowa couple Makenzie and Steven Schultz were all set to have a special anniversary dinner at a local establishment. However, it was not a smooth service. They had to wait 20 minutes for water, another 40 for their appetizers, and a whole hour before they got their main course. Yet, the couple didn’t get upset. In fact, they tipped $100 on their $66 bill.
Years before, Makenzie and Steven met when they were both servers at a restaurant, so they totally understood that there are some nights where nothing seems to go right for the front of house staff.
12. Couponing for a Cause
16-year-old Jordan Cox of Brentwood, Essex, UK and his mom Debbie discovered the power of the discount, as their coupon clipping habit saved nearly £2,000 from their yearly grocery expenses—a drastic difference for their single income household. With Christmas coming up, they decided to pay it forward and take their couponing to the next level.
They arrived at a local supermarket with 470 coupons and proceeded to fill three trolleys with a whole bunch of groceries. Their final total came out to a meager four pence. They donated the groceries to Doorstep, a charity that provides food to low-income families.
13. In Times of Need, People Step Up
Hurricane Sandy was an unprecedented storm that ravaged through the New York-New Jersey area in late 2012. However, the terrible and dangerous weather conditions brought people together and elicited some truly inspiring acts of kindness. US Senator Cory Booker, at the time the mayor of Newark, offered shelter to several constituents who didn’t have power.
Dr. David Ores offered free medical services at his Manhattan practice. Many businesses and homes also set up extension cords and power adapters to allow locals without power to charge their devices and get in touch with their loved ones while restaurants in less affected areas decided to distribute meals to more devastated parts of the region.
14. A Superhero in Chef’s Whites
José Andrés is one of the most accomplished chefs and restaurateurs in the world. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment, however, had nothing to do with his fine-dining establishments in Washington DC and Las Vegas. In response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Andrés founded World Central Kitchen, which provided healthy meals to those affected by the devastating natural disaster.
World Central Kitchen has provided on the ground relief at numerous disaster-affected places around the world. Andrés was especially lauded for his incredible response to Hurricane Maria-ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017. Since its inception, World Central Kitchen has provided over 1,000,000 meals to people affected by natural disasters.
15. Life-Saving Diplomacy
During the late stages World War II, Swedish businessman Raoul Wallenberg was sent to Budapest, Hungary, ruled by a Nazi-puppet regime, to protect and rescue the city’s Jewish population from being sent to their deaths. In co-operation with the United States’ War Refugee Board, Wallenberg led a special envoy from Sweden (who remained neutral during the war) to Budapest.
Wallenberg issued Swedish passports to 20,000 Hungarian Jews that protected them from being sentenced to the concentration camps. He also established many clandestine safe houses under the guise of Swedish embassy annexes to shelter and protect Jews. It is estimated that his efforts in Budapest helped save the lives of nearly 100,000 Jews.
16. Thank You For Your Service
Harold Jellicoe Percival, who served in Britain’s Royal Air Force during World War II, died in October 2013 at the age of 99 at a nursing home. As Percival didn’t marry or have any children, the nursing facility was fearful that his funeral wouldn’t be attended by anyone So, they encouraged servicemen and women to attend the WWII veteran’s funeral in their death notice.
The notice became viral and the funeral service was attended by hundreds of active military personnel, veterans, and civilians wishing to pay their respects to an admirable man. Rev. Alan Clark, who presided over the services, expressed that the mourners had “come in numbers surpassing anything that was expected. Not because you knew him, but because each of us has a common humanity.”
17. “You Get a Car!”
There have been many memorable moments on the long-running The Oprah Winfrey Show. One that people keep bringing up, through memes and GIFs, is when host Oprah Winfrey gave away everyone in the live studio audience a brand new car. Of course, Oprah’s generosity isn’t only limited to giveaways on her show. The billionaire media mogul has become a leading philanthropist, most notably with her charity foundation the Oprah’s Angel Network.
The foundation offers humanitarian aid during natural disasters and provides grants to non-profit organizations across the world.
18. Putting it to a Worthy Cause
As he was the longtime head of computer giant Microsoft, Bill Gates has amassed an incredible amount of wealth estimated to be around $100 billion—still regularly ranking as one of the world’s wealthiest people. In recent years, Gates, along with his wife Melinda, have devoted a lot of time, attention, and money to a variety of charitable causes.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is considered to be the world’s largest private charity. The central aims of the foundation include increasing access to healthcare, improving sanitation standards, reducing poverty, and eradicating diseases like Ebola, AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Bill and Melinda Gates plan to donate nearly 95% of their wealth to charity.
19. Billionaires Giving Back
In 2010, Bill Gates and fellow billionaire Warren Buffet announced the Giving Pledge campaign, which encourages the super-rich to devote at least half of their wealth towards philanthropic causes. The pledge has garnered 191 signatories and over half a trillion dollars. Besides Gates and Buffet, notable people who have taken up the pledge include Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Larry Ellison, and Michael Bloomberg.
20. The Godfather of Philanthropy
Andrew Carnegie was one of the richest men of the 19th century. He spent most of his life building the United States’ steel industry and in turn amassed an incredible amount of wealth. Carnegie spent the last two decades of his life giving nearly all of it back to charitable causes. Adjusted for inflation, he is reported to have donated over $75 billion.
His most noteworthy contributions were towards universities—establishing new post-secondary institutions in Pittsburgh and Birmingham, UK and providing a plethora of grants to schools on both sides of the Atlantic. He also established nearly 3,000 public libraries across the English-speaking world. Carnegie-funded libraries can be found in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies, South Africa, and Fiji.
21. Teachers are Everyday Heroes
Just before the winter holidays, Boston schoolteacher Nicole Bollerman decided to enter a contest sponsored by Capital One, which asked people to submit their wish for others. Her entry was dedicated to her students, “My #wishforothers is that my voracious, adorable, hardworking, loving scholars all leave for their December break with a book in their hand.”
Bollerman ended up winning the contest and its grand prize of $150,000. She promptly donated the entire prize to the charter school where she teaches. Bollerman’s generosity made national headlines and even earned her an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show.
22. A Small Amount, A Big Act of Generosity
A seven-year-old boy from Texas named Jack Swanson was saving up for an iPad. He’d managed to scrounge up $20 when he learned that a local mosque was vandalized and decided that the money would be better served to the house of worship. Swanson and his mom personally handed over the money to representatives from the Islamic Center of Pflugerville.
While it may have been a small amount of money, it was a big gesture that was very appreciated. Mosque board member Faisal Naemm commented, “Jack’s $20 are worth $20 million to us because it’s the thought that counts. Jack is just a little older than my son Ibrahim. If we have more kindhearted kids like them in the world, I have hope for the future.”
The best part of the story is that little Jack got his iPad after all. After news of his generosity spread, human rights lawyer and author Arsalan Iftikhar, on behalf of American Muslims, decided to gift Jack with his desired electronic device.
23. Remembering an Old Friend
The court of the Galen Center—home to the University of Southern California Trojans’ basketball and volleyball teams—is named the Jim Sterkel Court. When the name was first announced people were a thrown off by the obscure choice. Even Jim Sterkel’s family was caught off-guard. It turns out the name was courtesy of businessman B. Wayne Hughes, who donated $5 million to the university to get the name and initially did so anonymously.
Hughes and Sterkel went to high school together, were roommates at USC, and maintained a lifelong relationship. Sterkel wrote a heartfelt poem in honor of Hughes’s son, who was diagnosed with leukemia. After both Hughes’s son and Sterkel passed away, Hughes felt that the name would be a great way to commemorate such a meaningful friendship.
24. Saying Goodbye to a Local Legend
Tinney Davidson of Comox, British Columbia was known around town for being at her front window every morning to enthusiastically wave to kids on their way to the local high school. As news of the 88-year-old Davidson leaving her home for an assisted living center circulated across town, the kids decided to give her a well-deserved send-off.
In April 2019, over 400 students from Highland Secondary School gathered on Davidson’s front lawn with signs of well wishes and bouquets of flowers and waved goodbye to the woman that brought them so much joy over the years. Davidson was overjoyed by the grand gestures and said, “I was shocked again that’s there’s so many kids that want to say goodbye to me.”
25. The Definition of Sportsmanship
The rivalry between the English and Australian cricket teams is one of the fiercest and most historic rivalries in all of sports. The so-called Ashes series between the two nations has been contested since 1882. Going into the 2005 series, England were hoping to win their first series since 1987. So, when England won the second match of the 2005 series in incredibly dramatic circumstances, they were naturally exuberant and relished a victory that would be a major factor in winning their first Ashes series in 18 years.
However, one England player, Andrew Flintoff, did something else. Instead of celebrating with his teammates, his first instinct was to console his Australian counterpart Brett Lee. This simple act of sportsmanship was hailed as one of the great moments of the sport as it demonstrated that even the fiercest of rivals have an underlying mutual respect.
26. A Truly Selfless Act
At some point, we’ve probably all dreamt of winning that big jackpot and fantasized about all the exciting things we would do with that windfall of money. That dream became a reality for Tom Crist of Calgary, Alberta. In May 2013, Crist won a jackpot of $40 million. However, instead of spending it on a car or a boat or a trip around the world, Crist made a plan to give it all away!
He started a foundation and began to distribute it among causes close to his heart. He gave a portion of his winnings to a local cancer foundation, a contribution dedicated to his late wife who succumbed to the disease. Other organizations Crist planned to donate to include Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the Ronald McDonald House, and the Calgary Zoo.
27. A Special Day Becomes Even More Special
Carol and Willie Fowler were facing an unfortunate predicament. Their daughter called off her wedding only 40 days before the planned date. By that time the venue, food, and entertainment were already paid for and it was too late to get their deposits refunded. Rather than have all of that go to waste, the Fowlers decided to host 200 local homeless men, women, and children and provide them with a day full of fun and great food.
They worked with an organization called Hosea Feed the Hungry and together they brought in their guests in hired buses on what would have been their daughter’s special day. The attendees positively received the event and the Fowlers have considered making this an annual event.
28. When Life Gives You Lemons
When the seven-year-old Quinn Callender learned that his best friend Brayden Grozdanich needed surgery that would cost $20,000, he decided to help raise some money. So Callender set up a lemonade stand near his home in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. His parents advertised the stand on social media and it soon went viral.
The community came out in droves to support Callender’s mission to help his friend, who was undergoing surgery to alleviate issues relating to cerebral palsy. In all, the lemonade stand brought in $24,000!
29. Clearing the Way for the Future
Jalandhar Nayak lives in a remote village in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. His kids attend a residential school only six miles away from his home. However, due to the lack of proper roads, it takes them nearly three hours on foot to visit home. Nayak decided to take matters into his own hands and began constructing a stretch of road on his own.
For two years, Nayak would set out every morning with just a crowbar and a pickaxe to complete work on the planned five-mile road. Eventually, government officials got word of the DIY road building and decided to complete the project themselves and even compensate Nayak for the work he started. Nayak hopes the road will be a step in the right direction to improve conditions in his village and increase access to electricity and reliable running water.
30. An Incredible Mission
Born to a Jewish family himself, Englishman Nicholas Winton was horrified by the plight of Jews in central Europe in the years leading up to World War II. Working with the British government, Winton set up an organization that would rescue young Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia and find them homes in Britain. In all, Winton helped bring 669 Jewish children to Britain.
Amazingly, his act of kindness was largely unknown until 1988, when his wife found the detailed notes Winton kept of the mission. She informed a Holocaust researcher and the incredible story finally came to light. On a BBC program that year, Winton reunited with two dozen of the children who he helped rescue.
31. Going and Giving Back to Your Roots
Xiong Shuihua came from a very humble village in southern China and eventually became very successful in the steel industry. However, Shuihua never forgot his roots. He decided to completely rebuild his old village and replaced the wooden huts with new modernized housing. The entire endeavor cost about $5 million.
Shuihua even instituted a free meals program for elderly residents of the village.
32. Where Would the World Be Without Henry Dunant?
On a chance business trip to Solferino, Northern Italy, in June 1859, Henry Dunant witnessed the immense brutality of war. Solferino was home to a deadly battle in the ongoing Second War of Italian Independence that pitted an alliance between France and the Kingdom of Sardinia against the Austrians. After returning home to Switzerland, Solferino compiled his observations in his self-released book Memory of Solferino, where he detailed how bodies were left for dead on the battlefield and how little was done to provide them dignified care.
The book became very popular, as did Dunant’s idea for a neutral organization that would help treat wounded soldiers. The organization became the Red Cross, which still stands today as one of the world’s preeminent humanitarian aid organizations. The Red Cross and Dunant’s ideas also inspired the establishment of the Geneva Conventions.
For his efforts, Dunant was awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize.
33. A Graduation Surprise
Morehouse College’s Class of 2019 received the ultimate graduation present, when commencement speaker and billionaire investor Robert F. Smith announced that he would personally pay off all of their outstanding student loans. The students at the historically black college in Atlanta responded with a standing emotion and an impromptu chant of “MVP!”
Smith believes that his incredible gesture will have positive ripple effects. He said in his speech, “Now, I know my class will make sure they pay this forward,” he continued. “I want my class to look at these (alumni)—these beautiful Morehouse brothers—and let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward because we are enough to take care of our own community. We are enough to ensure we have all the opportunities of the American dream.”
It is estimated that the total debt of the 396 graduating students will be in the tens of millions of dollars.
34. Girls Wear Sneakers Too
Nine-year-old Riley Morrison is a huge fan of basketball superstar Steph Curry. However, she was dismayed that Curry’s signature Under Armour basketball sneakers did not come in girl’s or women’s sizes. In a letter to the multiple-time champion and MVP, young Morrison wrote, “I know you support girl athletes because you have two daughters and you host an all-girls basketball camp…I hope you can work with Under Armour to change this, because girls want to rock the Curry 5s, too.”
Curry personally responded over social media that he would work with Under Armour to correct this issue. Sure enough on International Women’s Day 2019, Morrison and Curry were on hand to release a newly designed, girl-sized shoe at an Oakland Under Armour pop-up store.
35. A Lump of Coal Isn’t Such a Bad Present
Before he became a jazz legend, Louis Armstrong would sell coal as a young boy in a tough part of New Orleans. Armstrong never forgot the immense value of coal for underprivileged families. On a winter stop in a rundown part of Baltimore during the Great Depression, Armstrong bought and set up a pile of coal that weighed a literal ton and allowed local residents to collect as much as they needed.
Being winter in the middle of the Great Depression meant that coal would be both especially hard to come by and extremely helpful in providing much-needed warmth.
36. These Kids Can Definitely See Him and His Generosity
The Make-a-Wish Foundation helps children with severe illness fulfill a life-changing wish. Many children wish to spend a day with a celebrity they admire. Professional wrestler John Cena holds the record for fulfilling the most wishes for the foundation, with over 600. Of his record, Cena recently told the AP, “It really is pretty magical when they get a really intimate experience with the individual and then they get to go see them be a superhero (in a WWE performance). I’ll do that as long as I can, as long as they’re asking me to do it.”
37. The Benevolent Bus Driver
Paul Doyle was driving his normal bus route on a particularly cold and rainy day in Belfast. As he noticed a homeless man shivering in the downpour, he decided to stop the bus and provide the man with a warm coat and a bag filled with supplies. One of the passengers decided to share this incredible act of kindness on social media and the post went viral.
For his selfless thinking, Doyle was awarded a certificate from the National Campaign of Courtesy.
38. A Chain Fuelled by Generosity and Coffee
On a bitterly cold Winnipeg, Manitoba day in December 2012, customers at a Tim Hortons drive-thru provided much-needed warmth. In a three-hour span, customers covered the bill for the car behind them in an incredible chain of generosity that lasted 228 orders.
39. The Ultimate Sacrifice
Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest who was arrested by Nazi forces when the Germans invaded Poland at the start of World War II. He was initially released and was motivated to promote anti-Nazi literature. In 1942, Nazi forces shut down the monastery he had been living in and Kolbe was sent to the concentration camp in Auschwitz.
Hoping to deter people from escaping the camp, the officials at the camp selected 10 people that they would starve to death. When one of the men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, called out for his wife and children, Kolbe stood up and volunteered to go in his place. Kolbe ended up surviving the starvation, but he was later executed by lethal injection.
The Catholic Church commended Kolbe’s ultimate sacrifice and he was named a saint and declared a martyr for charity. One of Kolbe’s pre-sainthood ceremonies was held at Auschwitz in 1971 and included a speech by Gajowniczek, the man whose life Kolbe saved. Gajowniczek died in 1995, nearly 53 years after Kolbe’s death.
40. If the Shoe Fits
With Payless declaring bankruptcy in early 2019, the stores were liquidating all their items. A quick-thinking young woman from Kansas named Addy Tritt realized this could be an incredible opportunity to do something really meaningful. Tritt went to her local Payless and bought out the remaining stock of 204 pairs of shoes.
She worked with a sorority at her college to deliver the shoes to people in Nebraska who had nearly lost everything in recent floods. For her efforts, she was invited to appear on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show where she was surprised with a gift of $10,000 in cash.
41. A Birthday to Remember
Tia Taggart of Lancashire, England was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma at a very young age. Hoping to, at least momentarily, take her mind off her battle with cancer, her family reached out to the public to give young Taggart an incredible 10th birthday. In response to her family’s appeal, Taggart received over 3,000 birthday cards from people all over the world.
Sadly, Taggart passed away a month after her 10th birthday. Here’s hoping that the memory of Tia Taggart’s last birthday, where she was greeted with a huge outpouring of love and support, will provide comfort and an everlasting memory to her parents and loved ones.
42. Random Acts of Kindness from Strangers
In early 2019, popular writer Nicole Cliffe took to Twitter and asked her followers to share the kindest thing a total stranger has done for them. The Tweet received numerous replies. Some notable ones include a woman offering a hug to a lost and overwhelmed 17-year-old traveler at an airport, a stranger helping a woman home after she suffered a panic attack, and a group of homeless men using their loose change to refill parking meters.
These surprising acts of kindness may be small in the grand scheme of things, but they are living proof that humanity isn’t the lost cause we often presume to be.
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