It was a few weeks before Christmas and the parade of people hauling money into the newsroom showed no sign of slowing.

One by one they came with envelopes stuffed with cash, coffee cans full of coins or crumpled dollar bills tugged from pockets on the spot. Some gave big, some gave small, most gave something in between.

An older woman brought in a sizable check with “Merry Christmas” scribbled in the memo field.

“Hope this helps,” she said, handing it to me.

A man in a dark blue work suit came in on his way home from the job, handing over a Folgers can that practically bulged with quarters, dimes and nickels.

“Best I can do,” he said. “Merry Christmas.”

A couple and their young child came in with an assortment of bills they had stuffed into a card the little boy had made out of construction paper, glitter and glue.

“God bless,” the young mother said, giving her son’s shoulder a little squeeze as he held the card out to me.

For days it went on like this. By the time the stream of donations wound down, I had so much loot jammed into my desk drawer that it made me uneasy. There was a little lock on the drawer, sure, but only God himself knew where the key was.

Christmas was just a week away when I bundled all that dough into a box, loaded it into my car and drove it out to Greene. There I met a woman who was a friend of the family about whom all this fuss was being made.

I had written a story about the family whose home had been badly damaged by fire just as the holiday season approached. For this young couple and their three or four children, it appeared that Christmas was to be a dismal disaster because almost everything they owned had been lost in the blaze.

But it wasn’t a disaster at all, of course, because the minute that story dropped onto doorsteps in the morning, pure human kindness swept over that family like snow in a blizzard. People who had never met the burned-out family nonetheless stepped up to help, and they did it without any desire for recognition or even an uttered word of thanks.

You see it time and again in the news business. Produce a story about a person who has fallen on hard times and generosity rises like a tide and the best of human nature shines into view.

A family devastated by fire? A no-brainer. Where can I send my check?

The story of a family coping with a catastrophic injury or illness will do it, but so will a sad tale of a little kid who has lost his beloved dog. Woe is woe, the people seem to conclude, and it doesn’t matter if the afflicted is an elderly person at the outer edge of life or a heartbroken kid just toddling into the world.

And so came a story last week that featured both — an elderly woman who had encountered some hard luck and the plucky little girl who loved her.

The story itself was simple. The 82-year-old woman had suffered a stroke and was unable to negotiate the short stairway leading to all the familiar joys of her backyard. Enter her 12-year-old great-granddaughter Lily and my God, how my email box and voicemail filled up.

“I read your article in the newspaper April 27th,” one man wrote. “I would like to make a small donation to Lily to help her meet her goal.”

“I am retired and a handyman,” wrote Mark Bogue of Farmington. “I have enjoyed that part of my life that involved helping others. It brings me great joy and I want to help Lily as much as possible. I can build the ramp and I can get others to pitch in and help with lumber. I also want to make sure it is done in a way that Lily feels good about helping as well… It tickles me to see young children with a passion for anything. We need to keep that going in them.”

“How do we donate for the ramp?” asked another man.

It went on all weekend and into the following week. By the time I got to the office, I found one card with a $50 check tucked inside and there were more than a dozen messages on my phone.

People called from all over the place. Some wanted to build the ramp themselves, others wanted to donate lumber, at least two reported that they had intact ramps that they’d be happy to give to Lily and her family. Many simply asked where to send money. They didn’t mince words or wax poetic, just requested the information.

Others were more expansive about their motivations and their eagerness to get that nice lady out of her house.

“Her granddaughter’s efforts to help her touched me and my wife and we want to help,” wrote Rick Micklon, a contractor who lives in Otisfield. “If this ramp is still needed by the time you read this email and could contact the family, consider it built — materials and labor.”

Micklon was willing to provide the design, procure the building permit and to start hammering as soon as he got the nod. Bogue was likewise eager to get the work started. So ardent was the collective desire to rip out those old stairs and put down a sweet new ramp, I half expected to hear that the ramp had materialized out of thin air, constructed by the sheer will of generous people.

The last I heard, the ramp is being built Saturday by Micklon’s crew. Am I surprised? Lord, no. There was just no way the thing was not going to be constructed.

When the people rise to action for the sole reason that they want to help, things get done. They don’t need some government agency directing their moves and no votes need be cast. Somebody somewhere needs assistance and that’s all the information needed before saws start ripping, hammers start hammering and the collective force of human kindness does its thing.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Give him three chords and the truth and he’ll make wonder out of woe.

filed under: