USA: Random acts of kindness amidst the season of political bitterness – By Mohamed Hamaludin

 — By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN

Nearly 6,000 families in Chicago do not have to worry about paying their medical bills totaling $5.3 million.

Thirty-six families in the Gulf Breeze community in Florida do not have to pay their utility bills, totaling $4,600.

And some shoppers who put toys on layaway plans at a Pembroke Pines Walmart have found their balances were reduced to a penny each.

The debts have all been taken care of by generous people wanting to help their fellow Americans, underscoring the fact that, even in today’s vicious political divisiveness, there are still those who spare a thought and a few dollars for the less fortunate.         

The Chicago generosity came through the work of the Rev. Otis Moss III of Trinity Church and the Rev. Traci Blackmon of the United Church of Christ of which Trinity is a part. They collaborated with RIP Medical Debt, which Jerry Ashton and Craig Antico, former collection agents, founded to help people pay their medical bills.

“May you have a beautiful, wonderful holiday,” Moss and Blackmon wrote in a message to the beneficiaries, who had not been told of their good fortune in advance.

RIP Medical Debt, established five years ago, has wiped out more than $900 million in debt, working partly with some 70 faith-based groups, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The families of Gulf Breeze in Santa Rosa County were helped by Michael Esmond, owner of Gulf Breeze Pools and Spa, WEAR television station reported. “I actually lived that [experience] back in the 1980s,” he said. “I experienced the same thing, having trouble paying my bills. My gas was shut off and we had no heating for the whole winter. It was one of the coldest winters in Florida. Temperatures got down into the single digits.”

Instead of sending out warnings for overdue bills, the utility company mailed a note explaining what Esmond had done.

“It made me cry. It made me cry,” said Joanne Oliver, the city’s utility billing supervisor.

The Walmart shoppers also did not know their layaways had been paid for. Their secret Santa was Shekhar Reddy, who, with his wife Shailaja, started the Gummakond Reddy Foundation in Hallandale. A businessman, Reddy was born in India but has lived in Florida for 30 years. “The community gave [to] us, so it’s time to give back to the community,” he told WPLG Local 10.

Richard Sherman of the San Francisco 49ers donated $20,000 to pay off the student lunch debt in the Tacoma, Wash., public school system, and $7,491.27 to Cabrillo Middle School in Santa Clara, Calif. , Yahoo Sports reported.

Around 75 percent of all school districts in the country ended the last school year with lunch debt, Yahoo reported.

Providing a helping hand does not have to come only through money. Mohan Sudabattula, who, like Reddy, is of Indian descent, started Project Embrace in July 2017 in his dorm at the University of Utah. It has collected, cleaned and given away 500 discarded items such as wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches, slings, orthotic shoes and braces.

Sudabattula got the idea for Project Embrace during a visit to India with his parents when he was 10 and saw children with missing limbs using lawn chairs and bicycle tires as wheelchairs, The Washington Post reported. As a college student volunteering at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City, he noticed children taking off their prosthetics when they became uncomfortable.

“Their parents would bring the prosthetics back and the protocol was for us to throw them away, he said.

That led him to wonder what other equipment could be found in attics and basements that could be cleaned up and given to someone in need.

“I knew that something as simple as a pair of crutches would change a person’s life,” he said.

In other news to warm the heart, ABC News reported that a man named Jack, who was flying first class from New York to London, switched seats with an 88-year-old woman named Violet, who was seated in economy, so she could realize her dream “to sit at the front.”

Leah Amy, a Virgin Atlantic flight attendant posted the story on Facebook. “You should have seen her face when I tucked her in her bed after supper,” Amy said.

Whitney and James Meserve adopted five siblings, aged from 4 to 11, from foster care so they could spend their first Christmas together, ABC News also reported.

“It takes a village,” said Whitney Meserve, who cannot have biological children.

And Colorado Police Officer Carolyn Becker donated part of her liver to help save the life of a boy she did not know.

“I became a police officer as an avenue to help people,” she told KUSA television station.

She learned that the boys’ parents had run up more than $20,000 in medical bills, including the cost of the transplant so she started a GoFundMe and an online fundraiser and took to the streets with a sign that read: “I donated my left liver lobe to an 11-year-old stranger. Help me raise $20K for his transplant bill.”

The boy  sent her a photo of himself and a handwritten note that read, in part, “Thank you so much for my new chance at life.”

Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who  worked for several years at The Chronicle in the 1970s and on publications in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating to the United States in 1984 where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a commentary every week or two for The South Florida Times (sfltimes.com) in which the above column first appeared. He may be reached at hamal1942@gmail.com.

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Comments

  • Linda  On December 26, 2019 at 4:50 pm

    Beautiful stories. The Christmas spirit is still alive and well thank goodness. Now if we can only carry it on throughout the year.

  • Clyde Duncan  On December 26, 2019 at 11:08 pm

    Tesco Suspends Christmas Card-Maker in China Over Forced Labor Allegation

    BLOOMBERG

    LONDON/SAN FRANCISCO/BEIJING – U.K. grocery giant Tesco PLC suspended its supply of Christmas cards from a Chinese factory and said it was investigating a newspaper report that prison labor was used in their production.

    All the cards produced by the factory have been withdrawn from sale, Tesco said in a statement on Sunday. If the investigation shows a breach of the company’s rule against using prison labor, the factory will be removed from Tesco’s suppliers list “immediately and permanently”.

    The Sunday Times reported earlier that a 6-year-old girl from south London, Florence Widdicombe, discovered a note in her Tesco Christmas cards that read:

    “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu Prison China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organization.”

    Such notes have been discovered in products sold by brands like Walmart Inc. and Saks Inc. in the past decade as western companies’ reliance on Chinese production has meant exposure to chains of subcontractors that reportedly make use of prison labor.

    While paying inmates to work is not prohibited under International Labor Organization guidelines, most international companies say they avoid prison labor because it is often difficult to ascertain if prisoners were forced to work.

    Tesco said that its Chinese supplier, Zhejiang Yunguang Printing Co., was independently audited as recently as last month and there was no evidence that rules had been broken. “We abhor the use of prison labor and would never allow it in our supply chain,” the company said.

    A representative for Zhejiang Yunguang said by phone on Monday that the report was “ridiculous and a slander.”

    “Someone may be wanting to defame our factory and our country,” said the representative, who declined to give his name.

    Calls to Shanghai Qingpu prison were not answered.

    The note, written inside a card featuring a cat in a Santa hat on the front, asked whoever found it to contact Peter Humphrey. Humphrey is a former journalist who spent 23 months in the same prison on what he calls bogus charges that were probably triggered by his work in China as a corporate fraud investigator. The girl’s father researched the name online and contacted Humphrey, who then wrote the story for the Times.

    The father, Ben Widdicombe, told the BBC in an interview that Florence laughed when she first saw the note. The girl had been writing Christmas cards and told her mother, “Oh, Mum, look — someone’s already written in this card, isn’t that funny,” Ben Widdicombe said. “On reflection, we realized it was potentially quite a serious thing.”

    Humphrey told the BBC he believes he knows who wrote the note “but I will never disclose that name.” When he was detained there, he said, prisoners had the choice to do manufacturing work to earn small amounts of money; he said the work now appears to be mandatory.

    “These prisoners are living a very bleak daily life,” Humphrey told the network.

    Forced labor in China is an enduring human rights issue that has plagued Western brands ever since the country became the factory to the world in the 1990s.

    The issue has received renewed global attention after reports that upwards of one million Uighurs, a Muslim Ethnic group in China, have been detained by the Chinese government in old-fashioned internment camps where they’re forced to work as well as attend re-education sessions.

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