You never know who needs a little kindness.
Smile on her face, flowers in her hand, Sarah Marshall walked up to a gray-haired woman in a motorized cart in the checkout line on Saturday at a Northland Wal-Mart store. Gently, she bent over and handed the woman a small bouquet of red and pink flowers with a handwritten yellow note of encouragement tied around the stems with a golden ribbon.
“We’re handing out flowers to people who look like they might need a smile,” she said.
Vera Coffelt, 73, of Kansas City, Kan., cradled the flowers in her lap and looked up at the kind stranger. Then she started to cry.
“I just found out I have cancer,” she said in a tremulous voice.
Marshall, a slender 35-year-old court reporter from Smithville with a gray sweater and curly black hair, came even closer.
“Do you need a hug, too?”
“Yes,” Coffelt said. “Yes I do.”
It was only flowers and a hug. But in this big, lonely, impersonal world, where hundreds of people can walk right by you as if you’re invisible, it meant something.
“It was a surprise,” Coffelt said, managing a smile. “A very nice gift.”
Marshall, whose son Gavin, 12, and daughter, Peyton, 9, also handed out flowers, didn’t ask anything in return.
“No strings attached,” she said to strangers who furrowed their eyebrows at her generosity.
You see, Sarah Marshall is a dreamer. She also is the co-founder of Boost Kansas City, a pay-it-forward kindness group with 250 members looking to change the world, one person at a time.
Marshall was just one soldier in a kindness army. On Saturday 25 groups and individuals fanned out across the area to do something nice for someone else.
One woman baked cookies all day Friday, then took them to police officers and firefighters. Others collected clothing and items for residents of an Alzheimer’s care unit. Still more visited the elderly, collected food, left a jar of quarters in a laundry and dollar bills in a dollar store, sent Christmas presents to overseas soldiers, and took “blessing bags” to the homeless.
When it came to Marshall, lawyer John Humphrey of Kansas City didn’t mince words.
“I think she’s nuts!” he said flatly. “But in a good way. She’s a single mom with three kids who works full time. And when she’s not at the office she and her kids are hell-bent for giving to others. Now that’ s a model for living.”
Denise Kirby also is a lawyer in Kansas City, and Marshall’s best friend.
“She is unbelievable to me,” she said, choking up. “It makes me want to cry. She’s a truly good person.… Through everything she’s been through she is not jaded. She still believes in one person’s ability to change the world, and she still believes in love. I’m proud of her because she touches other people deeply just by who she is.”
Marshall, twice divorced, has had her share of difficulties. She explained her motivations for creating Boost on her Facebook page.
“Doing Pay It Forwards started for me because my mind is constantly going,” she said. “I found myself constantly thinking about stress and problems, and even potential problems, so much that I wasn’t enjoying life much and my thoughts were dragging me down.
“Doing good things for other people serves two purposes for me: Gets me out of my own head, and makes me look around at what other people might be going through, and leaves me with the best feeling inside.”
She leaves others with good feelings, too, including Melissa Flint of Parkville, who also received a surprise bouquet.
“I thought it was very sweet — one of the nicest things that’s ever happened to me,” said Flint, who has a disability and is currently looking for a job. “I’d be interested in joining this.”
Marshall left her some information about her group.
“We all go through hard times, whether it be financial, depression or people making us mad,” she said. “Whether you’re at the top of the earners, or you’re homeless. And if everyone just took some time and looked around at other people, didn’t judge them, and took five minutes out of their day to care about somebody else, then, in my eyes, that’s an ideal world.” She wants to make Boost days regular events.
Said Marshall: “I will do this until everybody in the whole wide world is nice.”
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