by Barbara L. Sherf

It all started innocently enough on a rainy weekday afternoon in 2006. Stopped at a red light near my home, I spotted an elderly African American man waiting for a bus. It was raining. Hard.

I reached behind the seat and grabbed an umbrella, rolled down the window and handed it to him.

This man, who I suspect may have served our country in World War II, was genuinely shocked by this simple random act of kindness. As traffic backed up behind me, he thanked me and opened the umbrella, along with a cheek-to-cheek smile. I was so moved by the whole transaction that the idea for “The Umbrella Project” was incubated then and there.

Once home, I scoured the closets for spare umbrellas and stuck them in my car and actually looked forward to a rainy day. When the skies opened up, I’d look for someone caught in the downpour so I could continue the gratifying work with the offering of an open umbrella.

There is no web site or Board of Directors to speak of, but there is now a steady stream of followers.

“How do I get it back to you?” a GenXer asked upon receiving a pink and white beauty.

“You don’t; just pass it along,” I shouted, driving away.

While visiting my sister in Florida, I mentioned “The Umbrella Project” when we were caught — without an umbrella — in a downpour.

The next Christmas, I received a box filled with two dozen cheap umbrellas. Wooooohooooooo! When the supply gets low or I see them on sale, watch out; Ca-ching! The Dollar Store, flea markets, yard sales or any other place that could possibly have a supply of inexpensive umbrellas. I even scored three umbrellas when a neighbor moved out and left them at the curb for the garbage truck.

Feeling emboldened one afternoon, I explained the mission to a clerk at the coat check at a local museum. “Cool,” he said, returning with a handful of abandoned umbrellas. These babies were going back out on the street where they belong. He got it and gave. Big time. I was giddy.

I have parted with cane-like umbrellas, foldable ones, black, blue, polka dot, striped, and even a Renoir graced my revolving collection.

Of the recent coat check coup, I’ve added a label to each of the handles that reads: “You are now part of ‘The Umbrella Project.’ Spread some sunshine and pass this along on a rainy day.”

Barbara Sherf is a Flourtown-based public relations professional and certified lover of horses and Golden Retrievers. She will be teaching a class titled “Mining Your Stories” in mid-May through Mt. Airy Learning Tree. She can be reached at