For her birthday, Roanoke resident Debra Ferrell wanted to give gifts to other people.
ROANOKE – Just before her birthday in October, Debra Ferrell put out a call of action. She asked Facebook friends to come up with ideas for random acts of kindness. Ferrell was about to turn 53, and just because COVID-19 affected how she could celebrate, she wasn’t going to let the circumstances steal the joy of the occasion. She decided to gift 53 random acts of kindness in place of a celebration.
“I received around 10 ideas from the initial Facebook post,” she said. “Then I probably received about 20 requests after a local news story ran. I pursued each one that was willing to send an address to have something either delivered or mailed.”
Ferrell also chose to present random acts of kindness or, as she puts it, “RAK’s,” on friends and family members. That included anyone she knew was going through a rough time or needed a smile. She also RAK’d strangers and service personnel.
Her fondest acts included sending a bracelet that said “One Step At A Time” to a mom dealing with a brain injury and issues with her children. She gifted a memorial wind chime that said, “When you hear the wind, I am with you” to a family who lost their 4-year-old son to cancer this summer.
“That family also has an autistic son who has struggled with the loss of his brother,” she said. “So, I thought this might be comforting for him. They hung the windchime in their son’s old room near the window.”
Getting Creative to Avoid COVID-19
Ferrell also wrote personal encouragement cards to friends and family members who weren’t expecting to receive snail mail. She sent a plant and blanket to a recently divorced woman who had moved out on her own for the first time in years.
“I loved doing them all and tried to make them as personal as possible if I knew anything about the recipient,” Ferrell said.
The pandemic did not cause too much of an issue for Ferrell as she completed her kindness mission, and when it did, she got creative.
“Typically, my husband and I like to look for someone in a restaurant and secretly pay for their meal,” she said. “This was not doable because we really haven’t been to many sit-down meals. However, paying it backward in the drive-through was easy.”
She also made plenty of contactless deliveries on Roanoke porches and utilized Amazon for other package deliveries.
This display of kindness is not unique to Ferrell. For her birthday in 2014, she started “Love With Skin On,” an organization she runs with family and friends that aims to “share tangible acts of love and kindness.”
“I started Love With Skin On with the goal of not just talking about loving people, but doing stuff to demonstrate that love,” she said. “Whether that is doing random acts of kindness or purposeful service projects on our own or with local organizations.”
Jobs Steeped in Service
Ferrell has lived in Roanoke for 11 years and always held jobs that are steeped in service to others. She recently began working in a retirement home. In the past, she served as a youth pastor for 18 years and was a supervisor in a girls’ home in Floyd and then in a boys’ home in Roanoke, to name a few.
“I have always had some type of job helping other people,” she said. “Each of my jobs has increased my love for people, my understanding of mental health and poverty issues and my desire to make life better, even for just a moment, for each person that I work with.”
So what drives her generosity? Ferrell didn’t have to think hard about that.
“My faith is my life,” she said. ” I don’t live out my faith perfectly, by any stretch of the imagination. However, I do believe that faith should be lived out and not simply preached or talked about. The examples that I see in Christ involve doing. Yes, He taught people, but He also fed them. He welcomed people that others had discarded or dismissed even, both rich and poor, and showed them love, compassion and grace. While I don’t always get it right, my hope is that I can at least show some measure of that love to others.”
Let’s Keep it Going
Ferrell plans to keep the tradition going with 54 acts of kindness next year and encourages others to think about doing something similar for their birthdays’.
“Don’t feel like you have to spend money to make this happen,” she said. “Snail mail is a huge hit with most people because it’s so rare these days. Emails, text messages, smiles, words of encouragement are all simple acts of kindness are all beautiful acts of kindness that can touch the heart of the recipient without costing a dime.”
Erica Turman is a freelance reporter for Dogwood. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.