On Christmas Eve in 1994, just a few months after the death of her daughter Cheyenne during childbirth, Dr Joanne Cacciatore had a sudden impulse to buy toys.
Through tears, she purchased 14 presents and delivered them spontaneously to a daycare programme for disadvantaged families - a random act of kindness which changed her life.
“I went to my car and wept for a long time,” Joanne told HuffPost UK.
“It was the first time I felt paradox in my grief: I felt I honoured Cheyenne’s existence by bringing her love into the world. I also felt overwhelmingly deep sadness and longing for her. I knew I wanted to continue doing this and really wanted to do it anonymously.”
The moment in the car inspired Joanne to set up the Miss Foundation, a support community for grieving families, and The Kindness Project, which helps families who have suffered loss anonymously help others in need.
Today, more than two million people around the world have completed a random act of kindness through the project in memory of a child, parent, friend, or spouse who died before their time.
After purchasing the toys, Joanne decided she would forever use the money she would have spent raising Cheyenne on things that were “very sacred”.
The Kindness Project allows other grieving families to do the same, by printing off a “kindness card” online. They are then able to complete a random act of kindness in memory of their loved one - such as paying for a family’s restaurant bill - and leave the card behind, explaining why the person has become the recipient of a good deed.
Over the years, Joanne, from Arizona, has continued to perform the acts of kindness for other families in Cheyenne’s memory.
“Once, I was buying my own children back to school shoes. I overhead a family with multiple children discussing which one of their children needed shoes most,” she explained.
“On my way out, I found the store manager and gave him enough so that when I left, he would tell them that all their children could have shoes.”
The project has expanded beyond Joanne’s wildest dreams with people across the globe downloading the cards, which are now available as English and Spanish.
Ashley Jodell, also from Arizona, is just one of the bereaved parents who’s now involved in the initiative.
Ashley’s daughter, Mckenna, died when she was nine months old in September 2008, when a television fell on her head in a devastating home accident.
After hearing about The Kindness Project, Ashley began completing acts of goodwill in her daughter’s honour, from picking up the bill for the car behind her at a drive-thru to paying for a cinema ticket for a stranger.
“It felt like a way to mother my child because she isn’t physically here. To spread love into the world in her memory warms my heart,” she told HuffPost UK.
Each year Ashley visits a cake shop on Mckenna’s birthday and offers to anonymously pay for one of the cakes a family has ordered for a child.
This year, she was surprised when her donation became viral news, after the brother of the recipient tweeted a photo of her kindness card.
In a post that’s now been liked more than 208,000 times, Kyle Jauregui said: “So today is my sister’s birthday and when we went to pick up her cake someone had already paid for it. It was left with this card… my family was speechless and we just want to say thank you to Mckenna’s mum and wish Mckenna a Happy Birthday. There’s still good in this world.”
The note Ashley had left with the bakery read: “Dear Birthday Girl Family, in honour of my daughter’s 10th birthday I have chosen your birthday cake to pay for. Each year I do this random act of kindness because I am unable to buy my daughter a cake of her own. Today is her big double digit birthday. Please enjoy your day. - Mckenna’s mum.”
Ashley said finding out who had received her donation, and seeing their reaction, was heartwarming.
“When I do these random acts of kindness often times I wonder about the family and their reaction and how it made them feel, so when I saw this beautiful family and how it made them feel was amazing,” she said.
“I had the chance to meet them and they were even more amazing in person. I couldn’t have chosen a more perfect family to receive this random act of kindness.”
For anyone looking to send a kindness card of their own, Joanne recommended “paying attention” to spot opportunities when someone is in need in your community, but equally, acting spontaneously can spread love in unexpected ways.
“No act is too small. Fierce compassion is a powerful force; one that is much-needed and one that those who have known this kind of boundless grief can really channel into the world. We do this to feel, more than to heal,” she said.
“We need to do better in the world for all those who are suffering. And fully living our own grief can help us bring love to this broken world in an unstoppable way.”
Everyone hates January. The post-Christmas comedown hits us hard, especially with 2017 being such a tough year. Kindness 31 is our antidote to that. Every day we’ll share a good news story about someone (or a group of people) and their act of kindness or how they helped others. If you want to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively if you’d like to nominate someone to be featured, fill in this form.