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Wendy Reuer, Published July 21 2013

Gift cards one of many flashes of unexpected kindness

Fargo - Eleven year-old Sydney Leggio regularly scans the food court at West Acres Shopping Center. She is searching for someone with kids in tow, someone looking a little sad.

Once she spots a frazzled mother with a crying baby or a college student rummaging the bottom of their bag to pay for a coffee, Sydney and her father, Joe, surprise the stranger with a small gift card and a little card.

The gift cards are just enough for a snack or a meal. The card, the size of a standard business card, reads, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted,” a quote attributed to Aesop.

The cards are in memory of Sydney Leggio’s sister, Annie, who died of a rare chromosome disorder Oct. 20, 1998, 35 days after she was born.

“Those 35 days, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Joe Leggio said. “It was a gift. I got to meet my child, and I got to hold her. I talked to her, and she turned her head.”

The duo tries to stay anonymous and use the outings, which happen at least once a month, as a way to remember Annie.

Joe Leggio, who is working on a doctoral degree in education at the University of North Dakota, hopes to give more once he returns to work full-time. For now, the “small” gestures still garner big reactions.

Sydney Leggio says the reaction from the recipients is her favorite part of giving. She usually has Joe do the talking while she stands back to watch. Sometimes the duo doesn’t even pick anyone out of the food court crowd and simply hands a gift card to a cashier to pass along.

Leggio had the idea of “spreading the kindness” after he read Cami Walker’s book “29 Gifts.”

“It’s a great way for us to remember (Annie),” Joe Leggio said. “And we hope it starts a chain of passing along kindness.”

The Leggios aren’t the only ones who believe in paying it forward in this area. After The Forum put out a call to readers asking to hear their stories of random acts of kindness, many flooded in. Here are a few more of the stories:

Going-away gratitude

In December 2011, Master Sgt. Patrick Sommer, of Fargo, was on his way to Norfolk Naval Air Station in Virginia with seven other North Dakota Air National Guardsmen. During a layover in Chicago, the group decided to have a nice lunch at a family restaurant, an experience they figured they wouldn’t have for a while. They were heading off for a six-month tour in southwest Asia.

As the group finished up, they were told by the server their bill was paid.

“We were all shocked, as it was not a small ticket, and expressed our gratitude to the mystery patron via the server … and we made sure we left a nice tip for her,” Sommer said in an email to The Forum.

Sommer said in his 15 years of service, he often gets thanks and handshakes when he is in uniform, but that day’s generosity stands out to him.

“I know it had the same effect on the younger airmen that traveled with me that day,” Sommer said.

Although Sommer said he sees the gratitude from others for serving his country, he said he does consider this area one of the kindest.

Help for a vet

A similar situation happened closer to home for World War II veteran Donald Anderson, of Alexandria, Minn.

Anderson said he was grocery shopping at Wal-Mart when a stranger stopped him just before paying.

“When I looked back, this man was a stranger but he noticed my cap which on it said World War II Veteran. He said he appreciated what our generation done for us,” Anderson wrote to The Forum. “I thanked him and noticed some in the line couldn’t believe this. Yes, there are nice people still around.”

Thanks to teachers

But soldiers aren’t the only public servants who sometimes get a thank you for an often thankless job.

In May, Cheryl Bjerke and five fellow teachers splurged on a pedicure on the last day of school. The group was wearing matching “Camp Skeeter” T-shirts, a nod to the last-day trip to Lindenwood Park.

A woman asked about their day and shared that she too is a former teacher. The woman praised the group for their hard work with students and left. But when the group went to pay for their pedicures, the kindly fellow teacher had already snatched it up.

“We were in shock. Words cannot express how much we appreciated the generosity of this woman,” Bjerke said in an email to The Forum. “We could not think of a better way to end our school year. The kindnesses of this woman made all of us think of how we could all pass it on.”

A coffee pick-me-up

Kindness can be contagious at Starbucks on 13th Avenue South in Fargo. The Forum received numerous reports from patrons there of paying it forward – drivers successively paying for the order of the following vehicle.

“I can’t tell you how many different separate Fridays … someone has picked up my tab for Pay it Forward Friday,” said Tracy Jordet. “Of course I do the same, and it really makes a person feel good.”

A Starbucks Corp. spokesperson declined to speak for the Fargo shop but said the company does hear of similar acts of kindness at the drive-thrus across the country.

Jordet said it’s more than just the frequency of Pay-It-Forward Fridays at that location; the staff seems particularly kind and interested in helping the chain of kindness move on.

“It is just what good people do for each other,” Jordet wrote to The Forum. “It just kind of makes your whole weekend. So thank you anyone who has ever paid for my Starbucks, I have returned the favor.”

A grateful family

Tracey Holte, her husband, Tony, and their children, 11-year-old Molly, 9-year-old Drew, 5-year-old Lainey and 3-year-old Ty, have seen random kindness from strangers not once but twice during the holidays.

After the children stayed well-behaved and Ty kept a Perkins dining room entertained by singing Christmas carols as they waited for their breakfast order, an anonymous stranger picked up their bill.

“Nobody does that! I almost started crying and wished that I knew who to go thank,” Holte said. “If given the opportunity to thank them, I most certainly would have cried!! It was a special gift they had given us.”

Then, less than two weeks later, the family went for pizza. Once again, the bill was paid for by a stranger.

“I just wish that we were able to say ‘thank you’ to those kind people,” Holte said. “It really gave me a feeling that there truly are good people out there, we just don’t all get to see them or what they do. Now my family has proof times two.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530