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."

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Community appreciates and honors veteran

Command Sgt. Major Henry Armstrong turned 96 this month. His friends in Cincinnati, Ohio, honored him with a parade. Neighbors and first responders drove by his house to wish him a happy birthday. He said it meant a lot to him. 

Armstrong served in the U.S. Army for 41 years, from 1943 to 1984. He served in Europe during WWII and his greatest memory is helping to liberate Gunskirchen Lager, a concentration camp in Austria. In the past few years, he's met three of the men he helped to liberate. Later, he served in the Korean War and Vietnam War before retiring.


Monday, November 9, 2020

Teenage checkmater!

 Jessica Hyatt, a chess champion from Brooklyn, New York, was just awarded a $40,000 college scholarship, and intends to be the first black woman chess master in the world. The 15-year-old is currently in the group of top 10 black women chess players in the nation, and spends five to seven hours each day playing the game.

She is a sophomore at Success Academy, known for its elite chess program, and her coaches, David Mbonu and Tyrell Harriott, took a liking to her when they first met her five years ago. "The first thing she did when class was over," remembers Mbonu, is she walked up to me and asked, 'Can I play you?' There has never been a black woman player to break the master ranking, and that's what Jessica is going for."

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Dunkin dropped Donuts from its name, but...

 Even though the name was changed in 2019, when a store manager is named Sugar Good, you can expect a sweet story. Good manages a Dunkin in Oklahoma City, and she got enamored with a regular who ordered coffee with a sausage-egg-and-cheese sandwich in the mornings. "I could never forget his smile," she said. "When he smiles, his eyes sparkle." His name was John Thompson, and when he finally worked up the nerve to order a date, she gave him her phone number.

The couple knew from the first date that their love was the real thing. Three weeks later Thompson popped the question in the Dunkin parking lot. After a seven-month engagement, the couple exchanged vows in a donut-themed wedding ceremony at the same drive-thru where they first saw each other.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

A crumb found on Facebook

 Waiting in line to pay for groceries while maintaining a 6 ft. distance, I saw the man shown here cut in line. He didn't appear to notice what he'd done. The person he skipped didn't say anything. When it was time for the man to pay, he reached in his back pocked and realized he'd forgotten his wallet. He looked a bit disappointed and embarrassed. 

The person he skipped stepped up and told the cashier they'd pay for his groceries, which only consisted of milk and cookies. He was more than grateful. He kindly thanked them, and went on his way. Upon arrival at the register, the cashier asked, "He cut you off and you paid for his groceries. Why?" The person who had been cut off smiled and said, "I hope that if one day my Dad forgets his wallet, someone will step up and buy his milk and cookies."

Friday, November 6, 2020

What does it mean to be a neighbor?

 Washington County, Wisconsin, is a Republican stronghold. There were only two Biden signs displayed, and one belonged to Tim Chase. Within a few days it was stolen. But a few days later, Tim received an unexpected gift from his Republican neighbor, Josh Schoemann. Josh lives a few doors down from Tim and had a Trump sign on his lawn.

Seeing that his neighbor's sign had been stolen didn't bring him any joy. He thought, "that's just not right. We're Trump supporters but we love our neighbors and want them to have freedom of speech like everybody else." So Josh took his son and walked down to Tim's house, bringing a Biden sign to replace the stolen one. It was the first time the pair had ever met. Tim was amazed by the kind gesture. He told Josh he would do the same for him. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

"That's how my parents raised me"

 High school runner Ben Boardley didn't realize his sportsmanship could have resulted in disqualification, but it wouldn't have mattered. In a recent Indiana state cross-country run at Terre Haute, the Penn High School runner saw Brebeuf Jesuit's Faizan Khan fall as both approached the finish. Boardley stopped to help, pulling on Khan's left arm to riase him to his feet before both continued running.

"I just kind of saw it and did it," Boardley said later. "I guess that's how my parents raised me. They taught me to treat others how I'd want to be treated, and to be helpful when I can." By rule, a runner can be disqualified for assisting another. But an Indian High School Athletic Association official reviewed the incident and decided no violation had occurred. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Pandemic provides more time for reading

New York City's Strand Bookstore is known worldwide for its "18 miles of books." A Greenwich Village fixture since 1927, it's the only remaining one of 48 bookstores that once ran the length of 4th Avenue's famous Book Row. The pandemic has reduced foot-traffic, and proprietor Nancy Wyden, granddaughter of the store's original owner, feared she might have to close the Strand for good, so she reached out to her customer base and pleaded for help.

 The Strand's loyal clientele responded with an avalanche of 25,000 orders over a single weekend. The orders crashed the store's website and brought in about $200,000 in sales. (One enthusiastic Bronx patron ordered 197 books!) The store is not out of danger yet, but it's feeling much better.

Monday, November 2, 2020

A crumb for voters everywhere

 Actually, it's more than a crumb. It's blueberry cookie. The lines have been long, and the process frustrating, but most of you voted! If you voted in Brooklyn, New York, you may have seen Marvel good guy Paul Rudd.

The actor stood outside in the rain, handing out blueberry cookies to voters in Brooklyn and thanking them for exercising their American right. A lot of people dream about what they'd do if they became famous. Doing nice little things like this for strangers has to be high on the list.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Hard to believe, but true

 Like hundreds of others, 9-year-old Reese Osterberg and her family were devastated to loose their home last month in California's Fresno County Creek Fire. A huge baseball fan, Reese had been collection baseball cards since she was six, and had amassed a 100 card collection she was proud of. It was destroyed in the fire. When the Fresno County fire crew heard about her loss, they spread the word on Facebook. Could anyone help this little girl by donating some of their own cards?

San Jose's Kevin Ashford saw the post. "I got to thinking about what I had in boxes stored in my garage," he said. "I thought, you know, instead of selling them on eBay, I'm going to donate them all and put a smile on this little girl's face." That's exactly what he did. He'd been collecting since the 1990s, and (are you sitting down?) he had quite a few baseball cards to donate to Reese -- 25,000!