Viral stories of people helping strangers pay for groceries are inspiring other acts of kindness
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You're standing in line at the grocery store, and the person in front of you has their card declined. You know nothing about this individual, except that they can't pay for the items that have been rung up.

Maybe she's a single mom who's struggling to make ends meet, or maybe she's an addict who spent her kid's diaper money on drugs. Maybe he's a veteran living on disability, or maybe he's a scammer trying to mooch off of kind-hearted strangers. There's no way to be sure.

So what do you do?

A viral collection of stories about strangers helping strangers in the checkout line illustrates what it looks like when people choose to "do good recklessly"—and it's just so dang beautiful.

Screenshots posted by Facebook user Ashley Westover have been shared more than 80,000 times. Clearly people like to be reminded that kindness wins the day.

The first story reads:

"I was in line at Aldi and this girl with two toddlers in front of me had her card declined and she looked so fucking sad and said 'let me call my husband real quick' and it was only 18 dollars, so I just paid for it, and she was very sweet and then as she walked off, the lady behind me said 'You know that was probably a scam, right' and like, even if it was, like what a sad fucking scam, right? 18 dollars at the Aldi. If you're 'scamming' me for some Tyson chicken and apple juice and cauliflower, then just take my fucking money.
'A scam' people are fucking wild.'"

Another person then chimed in:

"This happened to me, too. A woman had used WIC for the majority f her stuff (which I say from personal experience is such a long and embarrassing process) and to buy the remainder of her groceries, which included diapers and wipes, she used a card, and it got declined. I bought the other $30 of her groceries because hey, I've been there, and now I'm not. She was extremely emotional and began to cry and even hugged me. My mom called me on the drive home and could tell I had been crying myself, asked what was wrong, and when I told her what happened, she berated me for being 'duped.' I couldn't believe she could be so disappointed in one of her children for doing something—nice? Is that the hill you want to die on? Getting mad about people needing groceries?"

This mom's viral story of strangers' kindness illustrates how it truly 'takes a village.'

Next up came a person who helped a woman with a vet bill:

"I once paid for a woman's bill at the vet...it wasn't a big one, but she was trying to pay for some medication for her dog, and her card was declined. And her lip started trembling, and she says 'I don't get paid until Tuesday, would he be ok until then?'
So I just told them to add the $20 something onto my bill, and I thought she was going to break down crying right there.
And I don't care if it was a scam or not. Just do nice things for people sometimes."

And another shared a story about how their dad served as an example of generosity:

"One time, my dad and I were living [sic] the grocery story and there was a guy outside asking for money to buy some stuff to take home for his kids. It was around Christmas time. My dad asked him if he could give him groceries instead of money, and the guy immediately said yes, so my dad gave him one of everything we bought (meant, rice, some chocolates, milk, oil). At that time, my dad hadn't gotten his paycheck because the company he worked for was going through a tough time, but he didn't care, he saw an opportunity to help someone and he did.
Another time, my dad gave 50 bucks to a guy who said he needed to buy medicine for his kids. I told my dad he was probably going to spend the money on alcohol or something, but my dad said that 'whether he was lying or not says something about HIS character, but hearing someone in need and choosing not to help when I have the means to says something about mine.'

I never forget that."

Finally, somoeone shared a personal story from the receiving end, bringing it all full circle:

"So this has happened to me but from the other side. Several years ago when my oldest was around three or so, I had my debit card decline at Walmart. It wasn't a scam or a mistake, I was genuinely broke. Out of money. I checked my bank and discovered I had something like 7 dollars left to my name and a hungry kid and nothing to eat at home. So I sat there trying to come up with the best way to stretch that tiny amount of money to feed my kid. Not even to feed me. I can live on popcorn or something if I have to but my kid was three and he had to eat.

So there I am trying really hard not to cry while I slowly take things out of my basket to get it down to under 7 bucks, when a lady tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up and she smiled at me and started putting the things back in my cart. I opened my mouth to tell her that I didn't have the money for them but she stopped me right away and said 'Don't worry about it. It's gonna be fine.' Then she handed the cashier her credit card and said 'Ring up all of it.' My kid got to eat because of her. I got to eat because of her. I had laundry soap and deodorant because of her. She could've just ignored me silently struggling in that line. She could've decided I was a scam and gone home feeling good about avoiding being duped. But instead she chose to help me and she saved us.

So maybe the person struggling in front of you is trying to put one over on you or maybe they are just sad and broke and trying to figure out what to do. You get to decide which you want to believe and what you want to do. But I'll tell y'all, no one has ever been more beautiful to me than that lady in that line who saved me and my baby. Be like her. Be beautiful."

A simple, three-word response summed up the whole beautiful thread: "Do good recklessly."

Isn't that the best life motto? Put it on t-shirts. Stencil it on walls. Tattoo it on biceps. DO GOOD RECKLESSLY.

Imagine a world where people gave one another the benefit of the doubt more often than not. Imagine a world where we all assumed the best in people. Would we sometimes get taken advantage of? Probably. Would we be helping people more often than we were being duped? Definitely.

There's a place for wisdom, and no one is saying not to ever be wary of scammers. But situations like these stories are times when assuming the worst may leave someone feeling alone and hopeless. Imagine a world where more people did good recklessly.

That's the world I want to live in.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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