In the iconic Hollywood film It's a Wonderful Life an angel comes to show an exceptionally compassionate businessman, George Bailey, what life would be like if he didn't exist. What we learn is: a life without kindness isn’t a very nice world at all.
Today, unexpected acts of kindness are so rare that they easily go viral on the internet and make headlines. But these stories of people being selfless are a timeless reminder that reaching a helping hand to a stranger in trouble – or simply doing something nice for the sake of it – are some of the most heartwarming and fulfilling things a person can do.
From the stranger who recently posted a London woman the book of her dreams after spotting her Twitter appeal, to the dry cleaners that offers free suit cleans to unemployed people before job interviews, here are some of the most moving acts of kindness from around the world.
Stranger tracks down obscure book after spotting Twitter appeal
In January 2017, London-based writer Eli Goldstone appealed to her Twitter followers to help her find an obscure book she’d spotted on the internet.
“This is the most beautiful book I have ever seen,” wrote Goldstone, sharing a photo of Karp, a 1981 collection of animal stories for children compiled by Estonian writer Harri Jõgisalu. “Can anyone find it for me? I want it.”
Goldstone wasn’t genuinely expecting anyone to get in touch – and so she was stunned to receive a private Twitter message a week later from a woman named Kärt Kalvet.
“Hi!” wrote Kalvet. “I stumbled onto your Twitter page completely by chance and after a bit of scrolling was surprised to see your tweet about an Estonian book. I am writing to you to ask if you’d actually want an edition of it because as I live in Estonia… I could get you one!”
Kalvet explained that original editions of Karp could be bought in second-hand bookshops in Estonia for around £2.50 (€3) – and in April, a copy wrapped in brown paper dropped through Goldstone’s letterbox.
“It is a story of the sweet generosity of a stranger,” said Goldstone.
Teens invite elderly woman to join night out
Mahri Smith, 18, and her friends were taking photos of themselves in the bathroom of a Canadian casino when a “sweet and chatty” elderly woman approached them.
She complimented their outfits and offered to take some pictures, telling them, “I remember when my girlfriends and I would get dressed up and go out like this.”
Smith was so touched by that she immediately asked the woman to join in the fun, insisting, “Why miss it, we are all out right now, aren’t we?”
The series of photos have since gone viral on Twitter, and it’s clear to see from the smile on her face that the encounter made the elderly woman’s night.
“Short story: we have a new friend,” said Smith.
Diner pays for cancer sufferer's meal
A woman with breast cancer was stunned to learn her and her family’s meal had been paid for by a stranger at the Chinese restaurant where they were dining in December 2016.
The kind diner explained that they they had lost their wife to cancer and wanted to give Jerina Edwards, who has lost her hair through treatment, an early Christmas present.
Edwards, from Oklahoma, wrote on Facebook: “More than anything, having cancer has shown me that there are a lot of good:people in this world… Whoever you are – thank you.”
Students take shelter dogs for a run
Nothing warms our hearts quite like a random act of kindness with some adorable dogs thrown in for good measure, so this tale certainly doesn't disappoint.
The cross-country running team from St. Joseph High School in California took a group of lucky pups from the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter along with them on their daily run in August 2016. Each student was paired with a dog and the team coach, Luis Escobar, wrote on Facebook, "I am not sure who was more excited and having the most fun… the dogs or the kids."
Supermarket pays for old lady’s shopping – and police drive her home
In July 2016, West Yorkshire Police received a call from staff at Sainsbury’s in Huddersfield. An elderly lady had gone into the supermarket and chosen some shopping and flowers – but, suffering from dementia, she became confused and distressed about what to do next.
According to a Facebook post from West Yorkshire Police’s Kirklees Rural branch, Sainsbury’s staff let the lady take her shopping home for free. ‘PC Dave’ then drove her home, holding her hand all the way to reassure her.
“Once the lady was home, PC Dave got her settled, put her flowers on display in the window, and put her shopping away,” said Kirklees Rural police. “All in a day’s work!”
Stranger hides £5 notes in Waterstones books
Chris Topping got more than he expected when he opened a book in his local Waterstones. The 24-year-old from Liverpool was browsing through the children’s book The Fox and the Star in February 2016 when he came across an anonymous note hidden in some of the pages.
The note read: “Hi, if you are finding this money then know the universe is smiling at you today. Enjoy a cuppa on me or pass it along to give another a smile to someone else! Have a great day!”
Chris said the note did indeed leave him smiling all day and he decided to do something meaningful with the money.
“We bought some sandwiches and drinks for a few homeless lads and lasses on the way home to pay it forward,” he said.
“I see a few homeless people in the same spot on a regular basis, so I thought I’d buy enough for all of them... I think the person who put the money in the book would be happy that that’s where the money went.”
Restaurant donates Valentine's funds to charity
Every year, a London gastropub donates 100% of the money it makes on Valentine’s Day to a domestic violence charity.
Nick Gibson, the owner of The Drapers Arms in Islington, gave almost £10,000 to Refuge in February 2016 to help women who have experienced domestic violence across the UK. It was the fourth year that the pub’s Valentine’s Day takings were donated to Refuge.
“I’m not that comfortable ringing the tills in the name of men’s love for women on the 14 February and turning a blind eye the rest of the time to men’s collective acts of violence against women,” wrote Gibson in a blog post.
He added: “Every year until it is no longer needed we will treat all of our takings on Valentine’s as a voluntary donation from our customers to a charity organisation that supports women affected by the violence of men… Because there are 365 days in the year, not just one.”
Café opens its doors for stray dogs to sleep in during the cold winter
A café on the Greek island of Lesbos is throwing open its doors to local stray dogs at night to give them a warm, safe and dry place to sleep on cold evenings.
A photo showing several adorable dogs curled up peacefully on the sofas in the Hot Spott eatery was posted on Facebook by customer David Simonian in December 2015.
“This is a coffee shop in Greece which opens their doors ever night to these poor dogs so they won’t freeze to death outside,” wrote Simonian on his post, which has been liked nearly 700,000 times and shared by over 360,000 people. “Congratulations to the owner, he/she is a sweetheart.”
The eatery in Mytilene – the capital city of Lesbos – lets the strays in for snoozes and snuggles after it closes its doors to customers at 3am.
A waiter at the café named Antonis told i100: “In the city there are many dogs. When the bar closes each night, the dogs come and sleep here. We don't have a problem. From July, every night there is a dog on the couch.”
Footballers let homeless squatters stay in their hotel for winter
Footballers are more often associated with bawdy excess and ridiculously large pay packets than for charity work. But Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville made headlines when a group of squatters and activists moved into a Manchester hotel the footballers were redeveloping – and the players-turned-property moguls let them stay for winter.
Wesley Hall, the human rights activist leading the group, told the Guardian he cried when Neville said they could stay put for a while instead of evicting them.
Neville bought the stock exchange building in 2013 for £1.5 million, with plans to turn it into an exclusive 35-bed hotel. But between October 2015 and January 2016, the building became a refuge for homeless people needing clothes, shelter, food, advice and support getting permanent homes.
“We were expecting that as soon as [they] found out that we had occupied the building, they would try to get us evicted,” said Hall. “Having a few months during the winter to work with homeless people without the threat of eviction hanging over our heads is brilliant.
“We’ve got a real opportunity to do some intensive work with homeless people and make a big difference to their lives.”
Image: Rex Features
Woman pays parking ticket for mum of sick baby
A new mum in Australia who had been holed up in hospital with her sick baby shared the details of a touching act of kindness from a stranger.
The anonymous woman had been staying at the hospital in Canberra with her nine-week-old son in August 2015. Upon being discharged, she returned to her car only to discover that she had been issued a parking ticket.
In a post on Facebook, the mother wrote: “After those days in hospital, a parking ticket was one more thing that I didn't need. Well to my surprise, when I opened the envelope there was a note from a lovely lady named Laura.”
Laura’s note read: “I saw your car had a parking ticket on it, I'm sure whatever you were going through at hospital is tough enough so I have paid for you… Hope things get better!”
“I hope that Laura sees this and knows how much I appreciate her support,” wrote the mother. “Thank you so much.”
100 Londoners lift bus to save a trapped cyclist
A crowd of Londoners worked together to lift up a bus with a cyclist trapped underneath it in May 2015.
Incredible footage of the incident was posted on YouTube after around 100 commuters came to victim Anthony Shields’ aid. Shields had been riding a unicycle when he was hit by the number 212 bus in Walthamstow, East London.
Witness Kyra Sam told the Evening Standard: “I'm really amazed at the strength of Walthamstow – no one hesitated to push the bus off, I was in shock.
“Everyone really came together to help - it was really nice to see that in the face of something so awful.”
Shields spent a month in the Royal London Hospital and was at risk of losing his foot, but later recovered. He said he had been “moved to tears” by the footage of his rescue.
Sheffield widow sent thousands of cards and gifts to celebrate 100th birthday
An appeal to make sure a 99-year-old widow had a brilliant 100th birthday went viral, after BBC Sheffield discovered her story and shared it on their Facebook page.
Winnie Blagden, who had no children, lived alone in Sheffield and had little contact to the outside world apart from her carers.
"We'd love to make her landmark birthday really special – can you help?" asked the BBC.
"To start with, we'd like to get Winnie some birthday cards and letters to open on her big day. If you're in, let us know below, and share this post so we can reach as many people as possible!"
The message was shared almost 50,000 times and received hundreds of responses, including offers to give 100 roses, cabaret performances, a free lunch or dinner, a session with a professional photographer, customised slippers, a limousine ride and plenty of birthday cards.
BBC Radio Sheffield presented her with the gifts just ahead of her birthday in May 2015.
Café owner invites homeless person raiding her bins for free meals inside
A café owner's touching message to a homeless person, which reads "You're a human being and worth more than a meal from a dumpster" has swept across the internet.
Ashley Jiron, who runs P.B. Jams, a restaurant in Oklahoma, USA –specialising in peanut butter and jelly (jam) sandwiches – said she was heartbroken when she noticed some of the rubbish bags containing discarded food had been torn open and some of the food removed. “It hurt me that someone had to do that,” she told KFOR News.
She typed out a note addressed to the anonymous homeless person and pinned it to her restaurant window.
"To the person going through our trash for their next meal," it began. "You're a human being and worth more than a meal from a dumpster. Please come in during operating hours for a classic Pb&j, fresh veggies, and a cup of water at no charge. No questions asked.”
Jiron explained: “I think we've all been in that position where we needed someone’s help and we just needed someone to extend that hand and if I can be that one person to extend that hand to another human being then I will definitely do it.”
Image: facebook.com/P.B. Jams
Bartender by day, charitable Spider-Man by night
A 20-year-old bartender is dressing up as Spider-Man and taking to the streets of Birmingham to feed the homeless at night.
The anonymous "Birmingham Spider-Man” buys sandwiches with his own money and hands them out to people in need a few nights per week after 9pm. Having been doing his rounds for a month, he hopes his work will show others that everyone deserves a helping hand.
"I've learned that everyone is the same, we're all part of the human experience and I...believe that we need to look at everyone as humans and help each other the same as we would a close friend," he told the Huffington Post.
Strangers save the day at six-year-old's birthday party
When Ashlee Buratti threw a birthday party for her son Glenn, a six-year-old with a mild form of autism and epilepsy, not one of his 16 classmates invited turned up.
Buratti took to Facebook to describe how heartbroken she felt as the youngster kept asking, "When will my friends come?"
"To see the look on his face killed me inside," she wrote.
Her local Florida community was quick to rally to the cause. Burrati was inundated with requests from parents asking whether they could come along with their children. In total, about 15 children and 25 adults came to eat cake and give gifts, including a bike.
Then the local sheriff's office got involved, with a helicopter flyover over Glenn's home. A nearby fire crew also put in an appearance and the birthday boy was invited to have a look round a fire engine and take a ride on a police motorbike.
"It was just amazing," says Buratti. "The people who came out were so awesome."
Single dad who took daughter out for Valentine's Day receives heartwarming note and free meal
A father who took his six-year-old daughter out for a Valentine's Day meal in California was left touched when two strangers left him a heart-warming note saying they had paid for his meal.
The letter, written by a husband and wife "who grew up without dads", explained that the couple saw the man with his "little date and were so impressed with what a great dad you are".
The note continued: "It's so important to have a male role model at a young age. Keep up the good work Dad! Dinner is on us!"
The father shared the story on the internet, writing "As a single dad, I took my six year old daughter out to valentines dinner tonight when this happened. I wont lie, I teared up at the table. So, thank you random strangers. Thank you.”
Thousands of strangers donate to man who walks 21 miles to work every day
The story of a Detroit man who walks 21 miles to work every day has stuck a chord with the US nation, prompting thousands of strangers to make donations.
Over $80,000 (£53,000) has been raised in the course of the weekend for James Robertson, 56, who gets just two hours of sleep a night in order to walk to and from his factory job in the city. Poor bus links in the area mean walking is often his only option.
Those moved by his plight set up Go Fund Me and other crowd-funding sites, and many offered to buy Robertson a car.
Woman raises over £320,000 for mugged disabled man
Beautician Katie Cutler raised £330,000 for a disabled man who was violently mugged outside his house in Gateshead, north-east England.
Alan Barnes, 61, was born with sight and growth problems and was left traumatised and afraid to return home after suffering a broken collarbone in the attack, which happened as he took the bins out.
Cutler was so upset by the story she set up a fundraising page to help find the 4ft 6in, 6-stone pensioner a new home. She rapidly surpassed her initial target of £500 as donations flooded in from around the world, raising £330,000.
The two met in an emotional get-together, where Barnes was able to thank his benefactor in person. "I always knew there were good people in the world, and this has confirmed it," he said.
Image: Rex Features
Couple gives $100 tip to overworked waiter
In 2014, Makenzie and Steven Shultz celebrated their anniversary at a sushi restaurant where the service was almost unbearably slow. The couple, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, waited 20 minutes for water, 40 minutes for appetizers and over an hour for their meals.
But rather than get irritated with their waiter, Kyle Hanson, the Shultzes left him a $100 (£78) tip.
“People all around us were making fun of the restaurant and how bad the service was,” explained Makenzie in a Facebook post. “Yeah, it was pretty terrible. But, it was very obvious that the issue was [the restaurant] being short staffed, not the server. He was running around like crazy and never acted annoyed with any table. At one point we counted he had 12 tables plus the bar. More than any one person could handle!”
“As I sat there and watched him run back and forth and apologize for the wait, I said to Steven... Wow, this used to be us. Waiting tables,” Makenzie continued. “I don't miss it at all and I never loved that job. I did it for the tips.”
Aware that Hanson would likely not be getting many tips that night, the Shultzes agreed to leave him a big one. “I’m not posting this for a pat on the back,” said Makenzie. “I’m just sharing this as a friendly reminder to think of the entire situation, before you judge. And always always always remember where you came from.”
London Underground sign cheers up commuters
On a dull November morning in London last year, a sign in an Underground station did the job of brightening commuters’ moods. On the 'Service Information' whiteboard at Earls Court station, instead of an update on transport delays or closures, the message read: "You… yes you. The one reading this. You are beautiful, kind, sweet, amazing and simply the best at being you. Never forget that."
Man offers to drive drunk people home for free
In June 2013, Alex Sheen, the founder of nonprofit organisation Because I Said I Would was contacted by a man, Matthew Cordle, who confessed he killed someone while drink-driving. Cordle said he wanted to bring good into the world and was later imprisoned.
A year later, in honour of the man who died, Sheen decided help keep the roads safe by standing outside the busiest bar in his neighborhood and offering free rides to anyone who had been drinking.
"The first group I picked up was a bachelorette party. I let them play their own music. No joke, they played ‘Call Me Maybe’ twice in a row and not on accident," said Sheen. "I drove people around for about four hours. No one puked in my car so I consider that a win."
Man gives barefoot bus passenger his shoes
On a rainy day, a Muslim man in British Columbia, Canada, took off his shoes and socks and gave them to barefoot bus passenger saying, "You can take these, don’t worry about me – I live close by and can walk".
The act of kindness was witnessed by off-duty bus driver Surjit Singh Virk and when his photographs were shared on Facebook, the story went viral. When the donor was approached by the media, he declined to be identified, stating that according to his Islamic faith charitable acts should be anonymous.
JK Rowling comforts shooting survivor with 'Dumbledore' letter
A teenage Harry Potter fan who survived a shooting massacre that killed her parents and four younger siblings received a heartfelt handwritten letter from JK Rowling.
Cassidy Stay, a teenager from Houston, Texas, was grazed by a bullet and suffered a fractured skull during the July attack on her family. Just three days after the murders, the 15-year-old addressed a memorial for her family, quoting Harry Potter's Hogwarts' headmaster Albus Dumbledore: "Happiness can be found even in the darkest times if one only remembers to turn on the light".
JK Rowling was so moved by Cassidy’s speech, she sent her a letter of comfort, handwritten in purple ink, from "Dumbledore," accompanied by an acceptance letter to Hogwarts, a list of school supplies and a signed book.
Images: Rex Features
Nurse turns her home into a sanctuary for sick cats
When Maria Torero, a 45-year-old nurse in Peru, gets off her shift she tends to 175 desperately ill cats at home.
Torero has turned her eight-room, two-storey house into a sanctuary for felines with leukemia, scattering it with food bowls and two-dozen litter trays to make them comfortable.
Torero is also a mother of three children aged 16, 14 and six, and has been running her in-house cat hospice for five years. She spends around £1,200 a month paying for the cats’ food and medicine, with half of that money coming from donations and the other half from her job as a private nurse.
Image: Press Association
Restaurant pays for a widow's meal
For 31 years, a couple in Missouri celebrated their wedding anniversary at a restaurant called Red Lobster. After her husband died from cancer in 2014, the unidentified woman returned to their anniversary spot, deciding to continue the tradition with her daughter.
After sharing their story with the server, the mother and daughter received a handwritten note instead of the bill which read, "We are sorry to hear about your husband's passing, but we appreciate your loyalty in spending 31 years of your anniversary with us".
Teenager collects hundreds of coupons to buy £600 worth of shopping for charity
Tech-savvy teenager, Jordan Cox, spent hours scouring endless websites and magazines for coupons to buy bagfuls of shopping to donate to needy families at Christmas in 2013.
The youngster from Essex bought £600 worth of shopping for just 4p with 470 coupons. He donated the food and household items, which filled three large trolleys, to Doorstep, a charity which gives food to disadvantaged families.
Image: Rex Features
Dry cleaner offers free cleaning to job hunters
In 2009, a dry cleaner in New York taped a sign to its shop window that read: "If you are unemployed and need an outfit clean for an interview, we will clean it for free". The 48-year-old owner, Carlos Vasquez, said it was a way of giving his neighbors a helping hand if they find themselves down on their luck.
"It's to thank them for the support that I get around here, for letting my business keep going by bringing me their clothes," he said. The first time he posted the notice was after 9/11 when he says he lost at least 32 clients.
Supermarket responds to three-year-old's letter
In May 2011, a three-year-old girl named Lily Robinson wrote a letter to Sainsbury's asking why Tiger Bread was called Tiger Bread when it looks much more like a giraffe.
The customer service manager at the time, Chris King, demonstrated exceptional customer service when he responded with a letter writing: "renaming tiger bread giraffe bread is a brilliant idea - it looks much more like the blotches on a giraffe than the stripes on a tiger, doesn't it?"
King consequently gifted the little girl a £3 gift card and renamed the bread type Giraffe Bread in all stores.
People set up phone charging points in hurricane Sandy aftermath
When Hurricane Sandy left millions without power in October 2012, people who still had electricity in New York used extension leads to set up power stations outside of their homes to allow strangers to come charge their phones.
Officer buys boots for homeless man
On a cold November night in Times Square, Officer Lawrence DePrimo was working a counter-terrorism post when he encountered an older, barefooted homeless man. The officer disappeared for a moment, then returned with a new pair of boots, and knelt to help the man put them on, reported The New York Times.
A tourist from Arizona snapped the act of kindness on her phone and posted it on the New York Police Department’s official Facebook page. Officer DePrimo became an overnight Internet hero.
Finders of an iPhone try to reunite it with owner
An unidentified person who found an iPhone in a patch of grass resorted to an A4 paper road-side poster to locate the owner. Alongside a contact number the note read: "If you're wondering why we went through the effort of making posters, the answer is that we had nothing to do, and are apparently extraordinarily kind people. Also, you have 2 missed calls from your mom".