About this time two years ago, Eva Gerstung, a 32-year-old airport security screener, bought a drink for the person behind her in the Starbucks drive-through at Dimond Boulevard and the Old Seward Highway in Anchorage.
Gerstung's job puts her in contact with lots of strangers. She's learned that a little kindness goes a long way.
"If you're pleasant and happy they will leave the situation in a better mood," she said.
In the car behind her: Abbey Valentine, 36. The trip for peppermint hot chocolate was the first time she'd gone out since she'd lost her 15-year-old chocolate beagle, Molly.
"The person never knew what I was going through and that I was already having an awful day," she wrote in a thank-you note she recently sent to the Daily News. "I picked up my hot chocolate, pulled away and started crying."
Ever since, Valentine, who works at the Division of Motor Vehicles, has tried to do something nice for someone every week, she said.
"It was nice to realize that the world isn't such an awful place on one of my darkest days," she said.
Over the past week, readers like Valentine have been sending in thank-you notes to strangers who have done kind things, small and large. (We shared Valentine's note early on Facebook and that's how we found Gerstung.)
We got more notes than we could publish, but here's a sample:
The sweetest grandmother "came right over"
While my wife was having surgery at Providence hospital, I was in charge of caring for our 2-year-old. I am a carpenter and can build an entire house from foundation to finish, but trying to change and feed my daughter is another story. While in the cafeteria at Providence, I was having a very difficult time feeding her, and the sweetest grandmother saw my challenge and came right over and offered to help. She was wonderfully amazing and made a stressful situation (for me) delightful. After we had finished, she returned to her table and my daughter, who is usually very shy, on her own walked over and gave her a high-five. That grandmother is a superhero and deserves a cape and recognition! Thank you, grandma!!
"The ATV plunged into water about 2 feet deep…"
I was out hunting caribou on the trails out of Eureka Lodge on the Glenn Highway. I am inexperienced and do not know the trails or pitfalls in this area. My friend and I decided to take my father-in-law's side-by-side up a trail that looked less traveled, in hopes of getting away from traffic. The ice in the area proved fairly thick and dependable, but even so, we stopped and scouted some of the crossings before driving over them. One crossing we didn't scout proved thin and the ATV plunged into water about 2 feet deep. Getting out was impossible without help, and we had gotten wet. The day was wearing on and my friend let me know that we had to go back on foot. The thought of leaving my father-in-law's ATV mired overnight left me in distress. Within five minutes of arriving back at the vehicles, two hunters in their side-by-sides came off the trail. I asked them if they would help me out. They were so kind. We left immediately to get it unstuck. They tried several different things because I was stuck fast. They ribbed me about it being my father-in-law's rig, and kept trying until we got it free. I asked them for their contact information so I could pay them back but they wouldn't hear of it. Thank you, gentlemen. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your kindness.
"The most compassionate person I have ever met"
My mom passed away three weeks ago. She was my best friend and I miss her so much. She was in the renal unit at Providence, and when we found out she was at end of life, the palliative care team was called in to see to her needs and ours. Linda was the most compassionate person I have ever met. She not only anticipated everything my mother needed, but she also made sure everyone in our family had what we needed to get through our grief. I have worked in the medical field for 29 years and I have never met anyone as amazing as her.
"I was knocked unconscious, then couldn't get out of my vehicle…"
I was in a bad car accident on Tudor and Boniface in January. I was knocked unconscious, then couldn't get out of my vehicle after I came to. When out of the vehicle, the other guy was just standing by his car not worried about me even though he caused the accident. My phone was not accessible, and nobody was stopping to help either of us. All of a sudden a nice older man stopped and asked me if I was OK. He let me use his cellphone to contact my family to let them know I was in an accident. After the police and firemen arrived, it seems as though he disappeared. I like to tell people that he may have been an angel who saved me from a worse accident, who helped keep me calm and offered me help. He's somewhere out there and I want to thank him.
— JoLean Fultz
"I completely forgot their trash…"
Last week, my neighbors were in Seattle and I told them I would take their very full trash bin to the curb while they were gone. I have a new baby, and after four months on maternity leave, it was time to send him to daycare. He would have one trial week before I went back to work permanently. Trash day fell on daycare trial day two, and needless to say, I was so stressed and teary that morning that I completely forgot their trash. When I finally remembered (well after the 7 a.m. trash pickup time), I panicked and ran outside. The neighbor's trash was out! But how? I checked the security cameras in front and saw the driver stop his truck, get out and pull the neighbor's full trash can down from its place by their garage. I was so grateful for what this man did.
— Kara Monroe
"He came on his own time to see if we OK…"
Our water line froze and then the pipes broke where the city line meets our house line. We had to call (Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility) to come out to turn off the water. We then had to try to find a plumber that wasn't busy with other projects. The whole process took several days to resolve. Jeremy, the guy from AWWU, came by the house on his own time to make sure we were OK and see if we needed anything. He even gave us his personal cell number to call him so we wouldn't have to go through additional hassles when it was time for the fix and to turn the city line back on. Jeremy's concern and kindness meant so much to us at such a stressful time.
"My boss and I were driving in circles…"
Thank you to the person who was leaving his parking lot spot during a busy cold day in downtown Anchorage. My boss and I were driving in circles, this person saw us, waved and said, "Take my spot, I have time left for you guys."
—Erick Cordero Giorgana
"I somersaulted off the Seward Highway and into a half-frozen bog …"
There were numerous people who stopped on that icy night two years ago, shortly before Thanksgiving, when I had somersaulted our Ford Excursion off the Seward Highway and into a half-frozen bog. The car was crushed on the passenger side, over and under the engine in front, and thoroughly flattened in back — essentially everywhere except right where I was sitting in the driver's seat. I was alone in the car because we had decided at the last minute that my husband would drive to Girdwood separately, with our two kids.
The first woman who stopped I know, but I never acknowledged the next person, a man who loaned me his cellphone and then helped me pick up the scattered remnants of our Thanksgiving ingredients and gear for the long weekend. I was in such a state of shock that my brain started processing things as if I were watching them in a movie. Other people stopped, asked if we needed help, and then on their own set up flares and directed traffic.
The next day, I went to pick up a framing order from Obeidi's and the owner gave it to me for free, for no reason I could tell. I never mentioned the accident. Two days later, we decided we would try to go to the Shootout after all, to see my son perform at half-time with his hip-hop group. A couple walked up to us in line and handed us two tickets, then another couple handed us two more, so we could attend for free as a family.
I don't know why they picked us, but I do know the kindness came at just the right time in a horrific week. Between the help from my friends that week and the surprising kindness of strangers, I felt the strength of our "Alaska family" that was there when we needed it, though we didn't have the words to ask.
"I had accidentally dropped my keys in a road drain…"
I was just walking into the hospital and a woman said, "Excuse me, I think you dropped something." Turned out I had accidentally dropped my keys and they fell into a road drain. A Providence employee stopped to see if he could help and was going to call the facilities department. As we were standing there, another man came by who asked if he could help. He had a flashlight and could see my keys on the frozen ground several feet below us. He went to his work truck and brought over a very long string with a strong magnet attached. He quickly retrieved my keys, I repeatedly thanked him for saving my day, gave him a big hug and was on my way.
"You came like a beautiful woolly angel"
You didn't know us, but you saved our lives. Four women did Arctic to Indian this spring. We were abandoned by the group we had started with, and I, the sweeper, was left with the job of shepherding two first-time skiers and one novice to Indian (not something I have ever done before, or planned on doing).
These chicks were game, and so tough. We had a great time until the last descent into Indian. One girl had fallen so many times that after 20 miles she was covered with bruises. She knew that she couldn't make it down the final few miles of narrow, icy trail with her skis on. The obvious solution was to walk down. Imagine our panic when we realized that the cheap binding on her rental ski had frozen solid and locked the boot to the ski.
We were exhausted and wet with sweat, but doing OK until we stopped. The sun went down, the temperature dropped and the wind rose. We were trapped and exposed on the side of the mountain. We couldn't go on, but we couldn't stay either. For nearly half an hour, nearing hypothermia and desperation, we wrestled with that horrible binding. In hindsight we should have just taken her foot out of the boot and made a signal fire with those execrable skis.
Then you came like a beautiful woolly angel, the last off the mountain. You gorgeous man, you had a Jetboil. You stopped, boiled water for us, and poured it over that twice-cursed binding. We got the ski off, got moving and made it home safer and wiser, and singing your praises.
Doug, you saved our lives. I'm naming my first kid after you. Boy or girl, I don't care.
"Small sweet surprises that life can sometimes bring"
I had been having a rough day. A rough week. A rough few years. You must've seen that in my face and my red teary eyes when I stopped in to Fire Island to treat myself to a sandwich I wasn't even hungry for. Because you slipped me a cookie. Chocolate chip. On the house. I ate both in their entirety and thought about the small, sweet surprises that life can sometimes bring. Even in the midst of calamity. Thank you.
"My daughter had just found out that her dad's cancer was a bad one …"
Thank you to the wonderful customer in Fred Meyer on Abbott. You asked my daughter at the cheese kiosk about the olives and let her know you had just finished chemo. My daughter had just found out that her dad's cancer was a bad one and chemo/radiation is the next step. She cried and you comforted her and prayed with her. You are a wonderful person and this mom is so grateful for strangers like YOU.
I have been helped by too many people to mention
I am an old lady who uses a cane. I have been helped by too many people to mention individually, but here are some things: Strangers ask me if need help getting to my car when the parking lot is icy; a group of young people at the entrance of Dimond Center saw me struggling to get up a snow berm to the sidewalk — after helping me onto the sidewalk, one said that they knew I could never make it, so they all came to help; doors are held for me — once by a 6-year-old boy; strangers offer to put my groceries in my car for me; and several times when in a store and I thought I was going to fall, individuals have held me up and gotten me to a place where I could sit. The list goes on and on. Thank you for all the kind things you have done for me. May your kindness be returned to you a thousandfold.
At Benihana, a truly magnificent "random act of kindness"
Several years ago my family of four went to Benihana to celebrate my daughter's 12th birthday. We went all-out and everyone ordered a meal in the $25-$30 range along with specialty drinks. We all had a great time and we enjoyed watching the food prepared by a talented and outgoing teppanyaki chef. When it came time to pay, our server informed us that our entire bill and tip was picked up by another family who wished to remain anonymous. The server stated that the family did not know us. We were amazed that someone would be so generous and giving to complete strangers."
— Deb Fiske
"My son slammed his fingers in his car door …"
At the Muldoon Fred Meyer, my son slammed his fingers in his car door. A kind lady saw what happened, yelled to us that she had a first-aid kit and ran over to give us gauze and bandages to tide us over until we could get him to the ER. My son still talks about the "angel" that helped him. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
"After paying all my bills and a tank of gas, I had 6 or 7 dollars …"
I had just started living on my own: months of ramen and other cheap, boring food. After paying all my bills and a tank of gas, I had a whole 6 or 7 dollars left till next payday. I decided to splurge on some McDonald's. You paid for my meal in the drive-thru. Those of us who have been really, really broke know just how grateful I was that day. I've paid it forward many times since. It's not much, but hopefully I made someone's day like you did mine.
"We were rescued by a family with four-wheelers …"
Last year hunting caribou along the Denali Highway, we found ourselves facing a difficult ordeal. The caribou we shot went down with the first shot but — every hunter's nightmare — after a moment, it got up and ran off. By the time we caught up with it where it finally went down, it was too far for the two of us, well into our 70s, to ever pack it back to our truck before dark. We were in for a very long and difficult night. In a story too long to tell here, we were rescued by a family with four-wheelers that helped my husband get the caribou back to the road and into our truck. He tried to pay them but they wouldn't have it. "If you really want to thank us, just pass it on," they said. We drove home warm in the glow of the kindness of strangers.
"A beer magically appears"
I'm legally blind and frequently use a low-vision cane. Just as frequently, someone I don't know notices my cane and proves to be the kind of stranger you want to meet — a kind one. On the bus, someone offers me their seat. On the sidewalk, I get a little extra space as we pass. At a concert, someone hooks an arm through mine as we descend steep stadium stairs that don't have a handrail. A beer magically appears in front of me at the bar. A gentle hand finds my elbow to guide me onto a busy subway car. The mob in a crowded mall parts like the Red Sea to let me through. So. To all the strangers who act like friends, thank you. We can all use a little help sometimes.
— Casey Brogan
"You offered us the opportunity to snowshoe"
To Adam from the dog park: I shared with you personal struggles my boyfriend and I have been facing in fall/winter here in Alaska. It was a natural conversation that showed me genuine kindness and care. You offered us the opportunity to snowshoe on Campbell Creek with you this winter and numerous other activities you and your wife partake in during the trying darkness. I thank you deeply and believe wholeheartedly your kindness is changing the world.
— Emma Herrera
[Inspired to write your own thank you? (It doesn't have to be to a stranger.) Submit a thank you note here.]