South Ocean (Chinese and Japanese) restaurant owners Julia and Michael Lin gave and received free hugs last week from Barbara Sherf in their Flourtown restaurant located in the strip of stores in the Acme shopping center. The couple, who now have two children, are celebrating three years in their location. Despite a fire in the nearby pizzeria that sidelined them for several months, the restaurant has made a full recovery. More information: (Photo courtesy of South Ocean)

by Barbara Sherf

This coming week, Feb. 12 to 18, is a celebration of Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) and Chestnut Hill area residents weighed in on some of their experiences of giving and getting an RAK.

According to Wikipedia, a random act of kindness is a non-premeditated, inconsistent action designed to offer kindness towards the outside world. The phrase “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” was apparently written first by author Anne Herbert on a placemat in Sausalito, California in 1982. It was based on the phrase “random acts of violence and senseless acts of cruelty.” Herbert’s book, “Random Acts of Kindness,” was published in February, 1993. It chronicled many true stories of acts of kindness.

In 1997 as a cub radio reporter living in Allentown, I would get a roll of quarters weekly and slip them in soon-to-expire parking meters. That practice has followed me back to this area and Chestnut Hill. I often practice this form of activism just steps in front of the meter maid, which gives me even greater pleasure.

According to the RAK web site (, “Everybody has the potential to change the world. We can tell you’re someone who wants to seize that potential. You’re a RAKtivist. You just didn’t know it until now. RAKtivists are the heroes of our organization. They live and breathe kindness, share knowledge and lead by example. You can tell where they’ve been because they leave a trail of warm-and-fuzzy feelings in their wake.”

Three years ago I started “The Umbrella Project” in which I buy cheap umbrellas (or schmooze a coat room RAK wannabe for umbrellas left long ago) and give them out to people standing at a bus stop or walking around on a rainy day. “How do I get this back to you,” they often ask. “You don’t. Just pass it along to someone else,” I respond.

My most recent form of activism has been to hold my “Free Hugs” sign and hug folks on the Avenue, while waiting in line in the Dollar Store, at bus stops, in nursing homes and even downtown Camden, New Jersey. These individuals thank me, but I have to thank them because I get as much if not more than I receive.

Ray Tackett of Germantown shared his story of receiving a RAK. “I was on crutches going to the doctor on Broad Street. Somehow my crutches slipped and went two different ways,” Tackett recalled. “Before I knew it, a burly man who could have been a Philadelphia Eagles player came up from behind, grabbed me under the arms and got me to my feet as another man was bringing my crutches to me.”

Narissa Bajjo, a new member of the Chestnut Hill Quaker Meeting, has an easy RAK strategy. “I bring extra water and food in my car, and when I see a homeless person, I give them that,” said Bajjo.

Wyndmoor resident and realtor Pam Rosser Thistle was walking near the 300 block of Pine Street last week when she was able to offer a kindness. “There was a young girl behind the wheel of her car looking frustrated and upset. I asked her if she wanted me to park her car, and she jumped out. I squeezed the car into the spot, and she pumped my hands several times and thanked me,” said Rosser.

While RAKs are done without the thought of a return kindness, sometimes that happens.  It happened to me in a big way. Nearly four years ago I was in Vineland, NJ, to help settle my father in at the Veterans’ Memorial Home there. I stayed in a hotel several nights and one evening decided to treat myself to a good meal. As I was sitting in the corner ready to order by myself, a tall African American man dressed in a black suit was seated in the middle of the restaurant with a spotlight blaring down on him. I got up and asked the solo diner if he’d like to join me for a meal and conversation. He did.

His name was Corry Fennell of the May Funeral Homes with a location in Vineland. I asked him for his card and told him why I was in the area. We talked about art, music, you name it, and went our separate ways.

This past October, when my father died, I called Corry to have my father’s body transported to Jefferson Hospital, where he had donated his body to science (as have I). I asked how much it would be, and he said, “I can’t charge you for the kindness you shared that night.” The Roxborough resident then proceeded to get me the necessary death certificates and prayer cards for free and even met me at the Starbucks in Chestnut Hill for my convenience.

Everybody has the potential to change the world. You’re a RAKtivist, but you just didn’t know it until now. RAKtivists live and breathe kindness, share knowledge and lead by example. You can tell where they’ve been because they leave a trail of warm and fuzzy feelings in their wake. For example, in 1981, NYCPD officer William Fox talked down a suicidal runaway teenager, 17 year old Michael Buchanan, and later adopted him.

Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf tells the stories of individuals and businesses. She can be reached at or Or visit to get started.