Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The most unusual letter Santa got this year

Jason Boyer, 41, and his wife Sandi wanted to help some needy family at Christmas this year and were anonymously matched with a little boy being cared for by his grandmother. The boy, whose grandfather had just passed away, sent a letter to Santa, and at the top of his wish list was a hoverboard.

 Jason and Sandi's son Hudson had also asked Santa for a hoverboard, but when he found out about the need, he wrote to Santa again and asked if his Christmas gift could be given to the other boy instead. The Boyer family did one better. They made sure both boys got a hoverboard from Santa this year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Dancing with the mailman

 A special friendship between a three-year-old and a mail carrier has continued through the pandemic, as they keep up their daily dancing. Ava, of Portland, Oregon, looks forward every day to seeing the mailman. "She gets so excited. It's amazing," says postal carrier Ian Simon. 

Socially distanced, Ava and Simon dance it out every morning. Her dad, David Whitlow, says the interaction is even more meaningful during the pandemic. "It starts the day on the right foot," he says, no pun intended. He feels Simon has made a huge difference during this difficult time. In the eyes of those living nearby, Simon is delivering much more than mail.


Monday, December 28, 2020

A sweet crumb from Ottawa, Kansas

It happened in Ottawa, Kansas. The Franklin County Sheriff's Office says it all started when they began receiving service calls about a woman walking along a highway. Deputies responded several times and give the 24-year-old woman a ride to work.

Eventually they learned that she had been walking six miles to work and six miles back home to provide for her two young children. A small group of deputies got together and in a few days, with help from the community, they gathered funds to purchase a van for the woman. The sheriff's office also donated two new car seats, $200, a gift card to a grocery store, and the first year of car insurance is paid.


Sunday, December 27, 2020

Secret Santa visits Walmart

Christmas came early to the town of Canton, Mississippi, when a generous and very secret Santa picked up the tab for more than 300 layaway tickets at the local Walmart. A donor who wishes to remain anonymous approached store management and made an offer they could not refuse.

The jolly old elf volunteered to make good on every layaway ticket they were holding for customers who had yet to pay or fully pay for their merchandise. The exact amount of the donation has not been revealed, but guesstimates are that Santa laid out a sizable chunk of change to ensure his neighbor' holidays would be merry, and a whole lot more stress free.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Grandchildren are their toy-testers

Mike and Judy Sullivan have been married 50 years. They live in southern California, and for the past seven years, the Vietnam vet and his wife have spent nearly every day in their wood shop making handmade toys to give away. Last year they spent $19,000 on supplies, and they build toys between eight and ten hours each day. Mike buys the lumber, drill bits and saws, and makes the patterns. Judy is quality control and decorator. 

The Sullivans give away many of the toys outside their home in the Coachella Valley. "We try to enforce social distancing and masking," says Mike. They will give away 1,400 free toys this Christmas, including to the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission and a church food pantry. They've mailed free toys as far as Indiana, and they even pay for the shipping, although they admit that's getting tough. "As long as I can afford it, I can send them where I can," says Mike.


Friday, December 25, 2020

He went down in history

 Rewind to 1939. The Great Depression was fading, and a manager at Montgomery Ward in Chicago wanted the store to create a children's book for the holidays. He tapped Robert L. May, an advertising writer, to create it, and he came back with a story about an underdog red-nosed reindeer who was at the right place at the right time. "Can't you come up with anything better?" his boss asked, but May believed in the story and got a friend from the art department to draw some sketches. Together they convinced the boss, but months into the project, May's wife died. His boss offered to transfer the reindeer project to someone else, but May refused. "I needed Rudolph now more than ever," he later wrote.

The store distributed more than 2 million copies of the book that year, but May was still living on a copywriter's salary and buried in his wife's medical bills. After WWII, Montgomery Ward's CEO, Sewell Avery, gave May the rights to Rudolph. May's brother-in-law was a songwriter, so May talked him into writing a song about Rudolph. It was picked up by none other than the singing cowboy, Gene Autry, and sold more than 25 million copies. May's family was taken care of financially through the end of his life and beyond, and as for Rudolph? Well, he went down in history.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

UPS driver moved to tears

 UPS driver Anthony Gaskins wept when members of the Hallsley neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia, banded together to thank him for delivering over 180 parcels during the pandemic crisis. To show how much they appreciate him, hundreds of neighbors lined the road where Gaskins drives, with signs and banners thanking him for all he does. 

Arriving on bikes, on foot, and in more than 75 cars, hundreds of residents waited for Anthony to turn the corner. A humble man, he needed to be coaxed to drive his truck down the road while children and adults screamed his name, honked their horns, and rang bells. Those who turned out said Gaskins always "delivers our packages with a wave and a smile."

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Santa pays overdue utility bills

 In a true humanitarian gesture, Mike Esmond, 74, of Gulf Stream, Florida, paid off $7,000 worth of outstanding utility bills for 114 of his neighbors who were facing cut-off deadlines. And it's not the first time he's done this.

Last year he spent $4,600 to ensure community members in need wouldn't go without basic services during the holidays. "This year to me is probably more meaningful than last year, with the pandemic, and all the people out of work and having to stay home," he said. "Hurricane Sally slammed us pretty good and hurt a lot of people. We still have a lot of blue roofs here -- where they're just covered with tarps."

Monday, December 21, 2020

Secret Santa lives in Idaho

A man in Idaho who wishes to remain anonymous is giving $500,000 this year to people on his "nice" list. One was Diana Boldman, a 65-year-old grandmother. She and her husband deliver 150 newspapers to subscribers in Idaho Falls in early morning hours, using a van with 240,000 miles on it. Then Diana goes to her full-time job at McDonalds. She hopes to save up money while providing for both her and her husband, who is on disability.

Secret Santa enlisted East Idaho News anchorman Nate Eaton to give Diana her present. He went to McDonalds, where Diana was making fries, and let her know Secret Santa had given her a car "that she can drive home today." She was also given $5,000 in gas cards, and a check for $1,000. All she could say was "Oh my!" 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

A 2018 crumb worth remembering

In May, 2018, Iesha Champs graduated from Texas Southern University's Thurgood Marshall School of Law. She was 33 years old, but as a child, she'd been homeless, her mom was addicted to drugs, and her dad was deceased. While living with friends, she gave birth to the first of five children. That's when her pastor encouraged her to earn a GED. After that, she earned a Bachelor's degree from the University of Houston-Downtown. Law school was next.

She admits raising five children while studying law is not easy. But her children helped. "They would help me review with flash cards. They would sit as a mock jury while I told them what I learned that day. I would sometimes sit in my closet and pray and cry because I felt overwhelmed, and my oldest son David would gather his siblings, give them a snack, make them take a bath and gather their school clothes, all to make things easier for me. And I never knew he'd done that until I went to do it," she remembers.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Today's crumb comes from Ireland

Pat and Tony Walsh of County Kerry, Ireland, own a business called Walsh Color Print. They employ nearly 120 people, but because the work requires specialized skills, a good part of their workforce comes from other countries. Since housing options are limited and costly in the area, many employees can't afford to save for a home while paying high rent. So, in 2017, the couple obtained permission to build not-for-profit homes on land the firm already owns. The sit can accommodate 70 units, 20 of which are earmarked for company workers.

The 1,000 square foot attached homes for employees are sold well below market value. To offset costs, the other 50 units are sold at full value on the open market. There's an informal agreement that employees who buy the homes will stay with the firm for ten years, and while this guarantees a steady workforce, Tony Walsh also believes home ownership will be a key factor in securing a stable future for his employees when they retire.


Friday, December 18, 2020

When the heartland opened its heart

 If you've never seen this video, prepare to have your heart touched. Near the end, it answers the question, "What can waken the memory of an old man suffering from dementia?" Love can.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Bikes won't need assembly on Christmas Eve

At least 750 deserving kids and families will have a special surprise under the tree this year, or maybe next to the tree. For the 16th year, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Technical Operations team bought and assembled hundreds of bicycles to donate to Marine Toys for Tots. Employees raised over $40,000 to buy the bikes and donated more than 1,300 toys to give much-needed holiday cheer to metro Atlanta, Georgia, kids.

 "While the pandemic prohibited the normal gathering of employees for the presentation of the bikes, the spirit of giving still shone through as the bikes were delivered to the Marines and onto trucks to be provided to Atlanta children," said a Delta official. And parents won't even have to deal with assembling the bike late at night on Christmas Eve!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The bridge to creativity and kindness

When it opened in 1950, the Mystic River Bridge was the largest bridge in New England, carrying US1 traffic north from Boston, Massachusetts, to scenic New Hampshire and Maine. Twenty-six-million vehicles crossed it each year -- on the lower deck going north or the upper deck going south. From the toll booth on the upper deck, you could see the majestic Boston skyline, as shown here. A few years ago, all toll booths were removed and traffic began flowing non-stop thanks to electronic toll collection. But for half-a-century, toll-takers were eccentric, sometimes brilliant people. One year, seven toll-takers quit their jobs after passing the Massachusetts State Bar exam to become lawyers. Former Boston mayor Kevin White began public service in the fraternity of toll-takers, who were trained to keep traffic moving by talking as little as possible. Paul Thomas, who collected tolls for 26 years on the upper deck, was often asked by drivers "how do I get to Harvard from here?" He answered with two words, "Study hard!" 

But toll booth attendants sometimes warmed drivers' hearts. Lee Hanson of Orlando, FL recalls a day in 1973 when she was a 32-year-old widow heading home from Boston over the bridge. She was exhausted after a hard day as an advertising agent. She had to work long hours to pay someone to babysit her two small children. She had no reason to be happy. As she approached the toll booth she rolled down her window and stuck out her arm to hand the toll collector the coins. To her surprise, she recalls, "when I stopped, the young man gently grasped my hand in both of his, looked into my eyes and said, 'Where have you been? The martinis are warm!'" She grinned and chuckled all the way home. My Mystic River Bridge memories come from 1984, when friends and I often crossed it en route to antique shops along the Maine coast. The toll that year was 50 cents, and we would always hand the toll collector two one-dollar bills with the remark, "the three cars behind us are with us." He'd snatch the cash, and from our rear view mirror we'd watch him wave the next three cars through the toll booth free. We hoped it made their day. It always made ours.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Inmates lend a helping hand

 Inmates at California's Soledad State Prison, may have made some poor choices in the past, but now they want to be part of something good. When they heard that Sy Green's parents have suffered medical emergencies, and he might not have the funds to graduate from his private school, they raised more than $30,000 from inside prison to create a scholarship for him.

The inmates, who call themselves "brothers in blue," raised enough money to let Green finish school AND attend college at The Academy of Art University in San Francisco. A former inmate named Jason Bryant played a key role in creating the scholarship. He said, "Regardless of the poor choices that people make, most people want to take part in something good. Guys were eager to do it."

Monday, December 14, 2020

Siberians give weary doctors a lift

 As the pandemic resurged across Russia this fall, people who were self-isolating at home had to wait days before a visiting doctor would arrive to check on them. Doctors were making 20-25 house calls per day, and were almost falling off their feet. In Irkutsk, all that changed in October, when a group of volunteers began driving doctors to home visits. 

Vadim Kostenko, 37, realized doctors could visit 70% more patients when they had a driver, instead of going on foot. He suggest people volunteer as drivers. In two weeks there were 22 cars and over 100 volunteers. By December, the program (Let's Help Doctors Together) there were 3,000 volunteers in ten Russian regions. In Irkutsk alone, more than 500 volunteers have driven doctors to 10,000 house calls since October. 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

A crumb from Georgia

 Rawlin Lee Tate, Jr., an 18-year-old from Stockbridge, Georgia, has made history as the first black male valedictorian in his high school. More than that, he secured $1.3 million in college scholarships. Tate had a 4.7 GPA, was top in his class for seven years, was honored as a Georgia Scholar, and took 21 AP courses and never got a grade lower than 98.

Tate has been accepted at 14 colleges, and will attend North Carolina A&T to earn a degree in mechanical engineering on a full academic scholarship. He also excels in extracurricular activities. He has played two varsity sports and been inducted into seven honor societies. He was part of the school band, and taught himself how to play the piano. Oh, and he's also a rapper. He says he knows he has more to learn, and is not afraid to ask questions.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

"God will do me better down the road."

 In Logansport, Indiana, a man whose cash-filled wallet was accidentally discarded got it back recently. Robert Nolte's wallet ended up in the trash after he asked a friend to discard a pair of his pants that were covered with paint. Nolte later realized his wallet had been in the discarded pants.

City Code Enforcement Officer Johnny Quinones worked with a crew from trash-hauler Republic Services to find the pants, and the wallet, after digging through nine tons of garbage. Nolte tried to give Quinones $100 in a gesture of thanks for his efforts to find the wallet, but Quinones refused the gift. To explain why, he said to Nolte, "God will do me better down the road."

Friday, December 11, 2020

A crumb from Minnesota

At a drive-thru in Brainerd, Minnesota, over 100 miles north of Minneapolis, people stepped up in a small way to show each other that they care. Tina Jensen, store manager of one of the two Dairy Queens in town, said a man came by the drive-thru window recently and asked if he could pay for his meal and for the car behind him.

 Jensen told her cashier this tends to happen once in a while, but at most it lasts for 15 or 20 cars and then fizzles out. This time, the chain continued for TWO AND A HALF DAYS with over 900 cars participating. According to Jensen, drivers in these cars paid about $10,000 for meals ordered by the car behind them.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Every woman needs her own sink

First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina, plans to transform land on the city's Northside into transitional housing for single, homeless women. "They, in our opinion, are the most easily victimized of the population on the street," said Steve Wise, minister of the church.

The goal is to build 20 tiny homes. The church says each woman in the program would get her own. City Councilwoman Erica Brown represents the Northside. She says, "It's kind of important for us to think outside the box. I think this project will give us an idea and a sense of how successful it can possibly be, and hopefully we'll see more projects like this around our community."


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

They're dreaming of a White-Christmas

Tilly Christmas and Kieran White met at school when they both were 12 years old. They are now 20 and got married this month at the Roman Baths in Bath, England. Mrs. White-Christmas said, "I wanted to keep the name going. It just so happens the man I am marrying has the perfect surname to go with it."

 Mrs. White-Christmas, who is a business student, said it took the couple time to realize how perfectly their surnames came together. "We first realized at our secondary school prom, when our friend uploaded pictures to social media using #White-Christmas. The couple live in Bridport. Their service was performed with 15 guests, just before the current British four-week lockdown. During these weeks, weddings are not allowed apart from exceptional circumstances.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Falling in love with the homeless

Millions of people across America have fallen in love with the homeless people who shop at Tower Gas and Mini Mart in Fresno, California. It all began when the two mart managers decided to record a frequent customer named Phil. He's been down on his luck for eight years, and they hoped to help him, so they recorded Phil and other homeless customers, highlighting their talents and their struggles. The Mini Mart quickly gained more than 2 million TikTok followers and more than 32 millions views.

Now people around the world are sending gifts and notes of encouragement to Phil and some of the others in the videos. Blankets, warm socks and other items have also continued to show up at the store. Store manager Akram Mohsin says, "Just the other day I received over 200 boxes in the mail from viewers who just want to help these guys out."

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Pine-scented love

 The National Football League and Lowe's are teaming up to deliver more than 13,000 Christmas trees to underprivileged homes and facilities, including childcare and youth centers, first-responder stations and non-profit housing organizations.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, Minnesota Vikings receiver Adam Thielen, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff and several other NFL players are working in their local communities to help spread the pine-scented love.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

"We colored, we snacked..."

 In March, 2018, Lt. Brian Zach of the Kingston, Arizona, Police Department had no idea his future daughter would meet him at the next residence check he responded to. He was then a patrol sergeant, and found a toddler named Kaila who needed help. She was the victim of abuse, and her caretakers faced criminal charges. She had to be treated for her injuries, but before that, according to Zach, "We colored, we snacked....she held my hand and she was just this cute little thing."

When the opportunity came up, he and his wife offered to house her. "She came with a sippy cup, a bag of clothes that didn't fit and that was it," he recalls. "When we got her she knew three words and basically grunted like a caveman. She didn't know how to talk, and now she loves to talk. Thirty months after their first meeting, the Zach's adopted Kaila. Her place in their hearts and home was made official last August 18.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Why don't other cities do this?

 An organization called ROOF ABOVE just bought an 88-unit hotel at the intersection of Clanton Road and I-77 in Charlotte, North Carolina. They will transform it into permanent housing for many in the city's homeless community.

Liz Clasen-Kelly, CEO of ROOF ABOVE, says the hotel is already equipped to serve as safe shelter to help the community through the winter, and by the end of 2021 her organization expects to bring these units online as permanent housing "for 88 of our most vulnerable neighbors."

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Kindness Capital of Kentucky

Drive into LaGrange, and you'll see a sign welcoming you to The Kindness Capital of Kentucky. Local leaders designated the city The Kindness Capital last year after two residents, Rylyn, 9, and Raegan, 12, started making colorful signs that say "Be Kind." The Richins sisters planned to start with 40 signs, but word got out, and so far they've decorated about 3,000 signs on the picnic table in their backyard.

The girls charge $10 for each sign, and their mom Rhonda explains that "none of the money goes into our pockets. It goes back to the community." Seven charities benefit from the sale of signs. So far, the family has heard from a Rotary Club in Pennsylvania, a Scout troop in Michigan and a family in California, about the Be Kind campaign. The family hopes it will spark a wave of kindness across the country.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Mother finally meets her son

 If Brenda Van Sickle would have been able to care for a baby at 16 years old, she would have gladly -- but she was determined to get him the best care, so gave him up for adoption. Last month, after 45 years, she got a phone call and was able to meet the man who benefitted from that unselfish decision.

Wes Fenner found his mother through DNA testing, after living a good life with a loving family. He works for a major bank in New Orleans, Louisiana, and started a family of his own. After talking to Brenda on the phone for a few weeks, he flew to north Texas to meet her alongside a pond. She will never forget hearing his voice behind her, "Mom, it's me!"

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

This is the season of giving

 It's the season of giving, and a group of businessmen from Atlanta, Georgia, kicked it off right. Jason Lobdell, Brad Giles and some other benefactors walked into a Kroger in Decatur and paid more than $40,000 in groceries for thrilled customers. "As Black entrepreneurs, we got to give back to our communities," Giles said. 

Meanwhile, a restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio, got a shock when a semi-regular customer left at $3,000 tip for the staff. Brendon Ring decided to temporarily shut down his restaurant, Nighttown, because of rising Covid cases. The customer left the generous gift with a wish of good luck and a promise, "We'll see you when you reopen."

Monday, November 30, 2020

For children of first responders

 American Girl has been busy auctioning off three exclusive holiday collector dolls. Their gowns and accessories took couturiers over 300 hours to design and hand embellish, with 5,000 Swarovsky crystals and crystal beads being added to the dolls.

The auction is finished now, and it's been a great success, with the one-of-a-kind items raising $880,400 for charity. One hundred percent of the net proceeds from the auction is going to support the First Responders Children's Foundation Toy Express Program -- an initiative designed to spread joy to kids whose parents are on the front lines of COVID-19 across America.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

A new meaning for "comfort food"

 A woman from New Hampshire has taken the concept of "comfort food" to a new level. After a generous community turn-out that included gifts and a drive-by parade turned her son's 7th birthday into a day he'll never forget, his mom, Brandy Bisson, decided to pay it forward.

"On a whim," the mother of three laid out $600 of her own hard-earned dollars to purchase groceries for eight people she'd never met. "With the pandemic and everything and all this election stuff, I just wanted to bring smiles to people's faces," she explained.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

A generous crumb from Home Depot

 With more people staying home this year, many are doing home improvements and DYI projects, Home Depot's earnings for the third quarter rose 23 percent from the same period in 2019. Recently the company announced that it will invest a billion dollars of that profit into its employees.

Throughout the pandemic, Home Depot has supported employees with expanded paid time off for all hourly workers, and temporary weekly bonuses for everyone. Now it is transitioning from temporary measures to permanent wage increases for frontline employees -- both full and part-time -- totaling $1 billion in raises for workers annually. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Animals are safer now in Utah

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources built a special bridge in 2018 over Interstate 80 to reduce traffic accidents caused by animals trying to cross the highway. This month, the agency released a video of the bridge being used by moose, porcupines, deer and even bears, as they cross the busy road.

 "It's working!" officials posted on Facebook. "Thanks to the Utah Department of Transportation and Utah State University for monitoring the Parley's Canyon wildlife overpass this year. As you can see, it's helped wildlife safely migrate over busy Interstate 80." The overpass is filled with rocks, boulders and logs, giving a welcome alternative to six lanes of traffic.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

"You reap what you sow"

 When a couple from Irmo, South Carolina, (who wish to remain anonymous) sold the dream house they'd lived in for 32 years, they thought they tied up all loose ends. Repairs were made, paperwork was in order, and they'd removed their belongings. A few days after the sale was finalized, new owners James and Clarrisa Munford discovered a literal treasure.

The former owners had hidden, and then forgotten about, 50 gold and silver coins. Legally the coins, valued at $15,000, were now the Munford's property. They could sell them and pocket the profits. But they chose to contact the sellers and return the coins, which had been left in a built-in drawer in the home. "There is an old saying, 'You reap what your sow,'" said the original owner. "My wife and I spent a great deal of time and effort to ensure that we left our home in excellent condition for the Munfords, and one good was certainly returned by another!"

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Dads who never baked start cookie competition

 Last April, two dads who live in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, decided to have a bake-off, mostly out of boredom. Scott McKenzie, 58, baked the first bunch of chocolate chip cookies. "I made an absolute mess of the kitchen," he admitted, "but the cookies were actually pretty good." He posted a photo of his cookies on Facebook, when Jeremy Uhrich, 42, a fellow Huntingdon dad and longtime friend, challenged him to a cookie competition.

They asked Huntingdon Borough Mayor David Wessels to pick the winner, and delivered the rest of their cookies to essential workers after the victor was named. Then the dads got an idea. They created  Facebook group called "Cookies for Caregivers," hoping some neighbors might bake treats for essential workers. Within  few days, the group had over 100 members eager to participate. Over the past eight months, the dads (now known around town as "the cookie guys") and their 100 volunteer bakers have made more than 15,000 cookies for caregivers.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Schools teaching in a new light

 The Batesville School District in Arkansas switched to solar power in 2017, after discovering they were spending $600,000 a year on electricity and running a $250,000 budget deficit. Superintendent Michael Hester, who knew faculty pay was low, causing quick turnover, took out a bond to buy 1,400 PV solar panels.

In just three years, Hester's gamble turned the budget deficit into a $1.8 million surplus, which he used to raise teacher pay. This improved test scores, since the district can now hold on to quality teachers. Living near a coal-fired plant, administrators worried how the public might feel about the switch. They found a sympathetic populace, who understood that solar power represented jobs of the future.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Necessity inspired teen's invention

 When Ayla Hutchinson of Taranaki, New Zealand, was 13, she saw her mother cut her finger with a hatchet while splitting kindling. Ayla became determined to find a safer way to cut firewood. She took up this challenge as a science fair project, and invented the Kindling Cracker, a cast iron tool that allows people to split kindling quickly and safely.

As you can see, the Kindling Cracker uses a built-in axe blade at the bottom of a safety cage. Just put the wood into the cage, atop the blade, and hit it with a hammer to split perfect kindling. Ayla's dad, Vaughn Hutchinson, helped her build the original prototype as a school project. Soon she was winning awards, including Regional Finalist at the Google Science Fair. Today the 21-year-old has built her invention into a thriving business which ships tens of thousands of Kindling Crackers around the world each month.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

A Thanksgiving crumb from Zoom

 Thanksgiving is likely to look different this year, with stores stocking up on small turkeys to meet a new demand. But Zoom, as a thank-you to its customers, will lift its 40-minute time limit on free meetings -- from midnight ET on November 11 until 6 a.m. ET on November 27. Normally paid yearly packages of Zoom cost between $150 and $200. If a host selects the free option, a meeting must end in 40 minutes. 

The video communications platform isn't just lifting the free time limit in the U.S. This Thanksgiving initiative is global. So wether you have friends in Sydney or London or Taipei, you can talk to them this Thursday as long as you like.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

A crumb from Lowe's in Springfield, Missouri

 Jaxon Maples is bright and curious. He also has autism. From an early age, he's been drawn to the sound of mechanical objects. So when he discovered the appliance section during a family visit to the local Lowe's store, it felt like wonderland. His mom, Shauna Rippee, says Jaxon's love for the hardware store has been a godsend. "We are so thankful that we know how to calm him down. We just get in the car and go to Lowe's.

When Rippee contacted Lowe's head office to explain her son's unique situation and ask if he could have one of their signature associate vests, she got more than expected. The store not only sent Jaxon a vest. They made him an honorary associate and gave him a bounty of child-friendly branded merchandise. "My team was really inspired by his story and connection to Lowe's," said store manager Marty Davis. "Jaxon's visit brought several associates to tears."

Friday, November 20, 2020

Another miracle on 34th street?

 When a worker helping to set up Rockefeller Center's 2020 Christmas tree discovered a tiny bird in the giant branches, he called his wife. "The owl's not flying away," he said. "We need to get some help." His wife called Ravensbeard Wildlife Center to ask if they took owls for rehabilitation. They did, and when a staff member met the husband and peeked into the box, it wasn't a baby bird. It was a tiny male saw-whet owl, which grows to be only 8.3 inches tall.

After riding 170 miles from Oneonta, New York, to Manhattan in a trailer, it needed some TLC, so rescuers fed it and provided water. Ravensbeard director Ellen Kalish said the owl was seen by a vet and given X-rays, and is fit and healthy. "It's just a story out of a move," she added." As for the owl's name? Of course it's Rockefeller.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Family enjoys an unexpected vacation

Sam Smith is the single father of 6-year-old Lysander and 3-year-old Zenduel. Since lockdown began in England, they've been confined to their one-bedroom apartment on the 15th floor of a high-rise in east London, England. Sam and the kids have sometimes have been stuck inside for 23 hours a day. They spoke on the BBC Breakfast Show about how hard it's been. 

Ken and Sheila Sims heard the program, and invited the Smiths to spend a week at their cottage by the England seaside. Of course Sam said yes. "I can't find the words," he said at the beach during his family's Devon vacation. Motioning at the sky and water, he said, "It's beautiful!"


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Boy finds unique way to help storm victims

 When a huge derecho hit Iowa in August with winds up to 140 miles per hour, a 12-year-old boy found a unique way to help storm victims. Tommy Rhomberg's home was not damaged, but he said that "driving around town, there were people with half their house destroyed, and I wanted to raise some money so we could help them." That's when he got a novel idea.

What if he took tree branches that had been taken down by the storm and turned them into baseball bats for sale? He called his bat the Great Derecho. Carving in his free time, Tommy made 1,500 baseball bats, and donated over $2,500 to help storm victims rebuild. "I feel like it's really helping people," he said.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Child rescued from rip tide by stranger

 The Whiting family was enjoying their final day of vacation on a beach in Monterey, California, when 10-year-old Haylee Whiting got caught in a rip tide. Her mom, Samantha Whiting, heard Haylee's cry for help and sprinted into the water, but soon the waves were swallowing them both. Fortuantely, a beachgoer named Kevin Cozzi heard their screams. He swam out and helped them both to safety. Haylee was unhurt, and the Whitings headed home the following day, but they could not forget the heroic stranger, and wanted to thank him again, but never got his last name. 

This month, Whiting used social media to find Kevin's contact information. The two were quickly connected, and as they talked, Cozzi mentioned he was getting married next fall. Whiting said, "My daughter had the idea to raise money for him to help with his wedding, honeymoon, or anything he might need." She set up a GoFundMe page to help Cozzi and his fiance plan their dream wedding, a wedding Haylee and her mom plan to attend. Cozzi is thankful for their gesture, but said, "That girl being saved was enough for me."

Monday, November 16, 2020

New brigade commander at Annapolis

 A Black woman will lead 4,400 of her peers at the U.S. Naval Academy this year, for the first time in the academy's 175 year history. Midshipman 1st Class Sydney Barber of Lake Forest, Illinois, will hold the highest leadership position among her fellow midshipmen.

She says earning the title of brigade commander speaks volumes, but the title itself is not nearly as significant as the opportunity it brings to lead a team doing something she believes will be truly special. She said, "I am humbled to play a small role in this momentous season of American history."

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Kindness will open doors that education won't

 Tyra Patterson's passion and therapy is art. During the 23 years she spent as a prison inmate, art was her only escape. She was in prison for a crime she did not commit, and was released on Christmas Day, 2017. She had been helped by the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, and one week after her release, they hired her as a paralegal.

Patterson never learned to read or write. She dropped out of elementary school as a child when her family was homeless. She got educated in prison, earning her GED and taking specialized classes. This month, she was commencement speaker at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. "What could I say to such brilliant students? Here I am, an elementary school drop out." She told the grads to "be kind, because kindness will open doors that education won't." Then she was surprised to receive the school's 2020 Creative Perseverance award, and an honorary Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Canadian teen makes online learning easier

Last March, Sophia Joffe's high school in Toronto, Canada, switched to total remote learning. She was in the 11th grade, and found virtual learning challenging. She searched the Internet for supplemental online learning resources, but found few. So she created

Her database includes more than 300 online learning tools, including a civics curriculum founded by former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor.  Sophia's goal was to collect enough resources so that parents and students could use "one stop shopping" to find learning tools to meet their needs. She spent $19 to host a website and asked software companies for free licenses. It took some time to compile the learning tools, but by last month her database had visitors from more than 40 nations.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

When he's not protecting, he's serving

 Dave Jones and his girlfriend, who is from Umbria, Italy, were hiking in the California mountains two years ago when they ran out of food and needed to resupply. They were near the town of Independence and hoped they could hitch a ride to Bishop, 42 miles away. As they walked to the edge of town, their hearts sank as a police cruiser pulled up. They've never forgotten what happened next.

Out stepped officer Adam Otten. Instead of writing them a ticket for hitchhiking, he gave them a lift. They were both hungry, so he stopped along the way at his dad's BBQ restaurant, the Copper Top Grill, where Dave enjoyed a pulled pork sandwich and his girlfriend ate a mound of potato salad. Then Officer Otten drove them safely to Bishop, before returning home. He told the couple that his job was to protect and serve. "When I'm not protecting, I'm serving."