From cookies to nice notes, group spreads random kindness

A tin of cookies is left on the running board of an ambulance outside a nursing home with a note for the emergency workers who operate it: “You’re AMAZING! Yes, you!”

A baggie sits on the edge of a fountain with dozens of copper coins and another message, for anyone who passes by and fancies tossing one in: “Take a penny. Make a wish! Hope your dreams come true.”

This is the world of Sparks of Kindness, an online community of people going out of their way to put a smile on the faces of others through small but touching good deeds, especially in tumultuous times of pandemic, protests and political division.

“There’s so much bad in the world, and that’s kind of what we hear about,” said Debbie McFarland, a 53-year-old photographer from Peachtree City, Ga., who founded the group on Facebook. “But I found that there’s so many people that want to do good — they just don’t really know how to start.”

That’s where Sparks of Kindness comes in. It has lists of ideas for “sparks,” or small kindnesses people can do such as thanking a teacher with candy or leaving coloring books in a hospital waiting room.

Users share their ideas and stories in the forum. Among them:

— “Took flowers to the neighbor. She had been caring for a sick friend and thought she could use a little cheer.”

— “I gave the guy in front of me $20 since his debit didn’t go through. My emergency $20 came in handy… he hugged me, so I may get COVID, but he was very appreciative!”

— “Took hot soup and biscuits to a sick mama next door.”

McFarland said she encourages people to do “sparks” when they’re struggling in their own lives. It helps them cope with their own traumas.

She enjoys leaving notes in stores for others to find — say, “You’re beautiful just the way you are” in the cosmetics aisle, or “This too shall pass. Hang in there” amid the cold and flu remedies.

Once, McFarland watched in a grocery store as a weary woman in medical scrubs with three crying young children in tow came across one of those pick-me-ups. She looked around, broke out in a smile and tucked the note into her pocket.

She’s also fond of the story of a woman who put her 4-year-old daughter’s comforter in the washing machine at a laundromat, only to realize she didn’t have money for the dryer. Almost by magic, a bag of quarters left by a member of the group materialized. After the woman went on the Facebook group and posted her thanks, another member bought her a new dryer.

McFarland encourages people to keep their eyes open for random acts of kindness, like helping an older adult struggling to load groceries into the trunk. But she also wants them to do good with planning and intent — “deliberate acts of kindness,” as she puts it.

“When you’re making your to-do list for the day or the week, you think about where you’re going that particular day,” she said. “If you’re going to the tire shop, maybe swing by and pick up a pack of cookies. … Or if you know you’re going to the school, maybe pick up a hot chocolate for the crossing guard.”

Launched several years ago, Sparks of Kindness has grown to some 5,000 members in about 40 countries, according to McFarland. Interest has picked up during the pandemic, with about 500 new people joining since it began.

“During this pandemic, I think people are starting to realize that … every person you come into contact with is fighting some kind of battle, whether it’s appointments or unmet expectations of others or health or bullying or whatever it is,” McFarland said. “Everyone’s facing a battle, and if you can get one tiny spark to ignite a hope within them, then it does something within them.”