Even as fear, violence, and sorrow took hold of America, Mandy Johnson of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, spread kindness.
Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School and San Bernardino shootings in 2012 and 2015 respectively, Johnson honored the lives of the victims with random acts of kindness.
Sandy Hook teacher Rachel D’Avino was killed before she could marry her love. Johnson put a gift card inside a Brides magazine and placed it back on the store shelf to bring joy to another bride in D’Avino’s memory.
Johnson wrote a note of appreciation to a principal at a local school to honor Sandy Hook principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung. She placed a gift card in a book titled “Olivia” to honor Olivia Engel, 6, who was killed at Sandy Hook.
After the San Bernardino shootings, Johnson and her husband, Phillip, decided to again honor the 14 victims with 14 acts of kindness, but this time she started a Facebook event and invited others to spread the kindness, too.
“The neatest thing about that was reading what everybody else did,” Johnson said. “That made it even more meaningful to me.”
Tracy Gist Perry saw a Salvation Army bell-ringer who looked like he could use some cheering up. “I asked if he liked coffee, and he said, ‘Yes ma’am, I sure do,'” Perry wrote on the Facebook group’s page. Perry bought him a coffee to honor one of the victims, Sierra Clayborn, who always knew when to give a hug, according to one of her friends.
Robin Harris McDonald, one of Johnson’s friends who joined her acts of kindness initiative via Facebook, wrote about her favorite act of kindness: “I was going into work and came upon a woman carrying her little daughter. I walked by and handed [a] gift bag to the mom. …
“This one was to honor Michael Wetzel. He coached 5-year-old girls’ soccer, and their theme was ‘princess.’ So, the gift had a princess bubble wand. … The little girl saw it and totally made an ‘O’ face! Then I heard her say, … ‘Mommy, who was that lady?'”
Johnson often didn’t get to see the effects of her kindness, as she anonymously dropped presents in various places for others to find, but she did hear about the effects of one of her surprise gifts.
She had paid for a stranger’s to-go lunch order at a local restaurant before he came to pick it up. He read about her acts-of-kindness initiative in a local Tuscaloosa newspaper and contacted Johnson through the newspaper.
He told her that on the day she paid for his lunch he had been very upset. His mother had recently died, and on his way to lunch, he prayed for a sign from God that his mother was still with him. He felt like this was his sign.
Her acts-of-kindness initiative helped Johnson be a kinder person in her daily life: “It made me aware of the things daily that you can do to be kind that have nothing to do with giving somebody a gift card or buying them flowers, … just the way you speak to people and the way you react to people.”
As an associate director for the University of Alabama’s bookstores, she manages a lot of employees and sometimes isn’t as nice to them as she could be, she said.
“Doing this made me aware that there are so many opportunities to be kind that I don’t take because I get irritated or impatient or I have a lot on my plate,” Johnson said. Now she takes the time to point out the good things employees do, and she exercises greater patience.