DRACUT — A few patrons who unloaded their bags after shopping at the Dracut Food Pantry Saturday discovered something unexpected when they got home.
Tucked into one of their bags was a tiny red envelope that said “For You” with money inside.
The card and money were given anonymously from a volunteer at the food pantry and retired Lowell schoolteacher, who is completing 26 acts of kindness in honor of the 20 children and six adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“I think of them so often and what is their Christmas going to be like,” said Jackie Carr, who retired in late October from teaching sixth grade at Lowell’s Butler Middle School.
She felt helpless in the wake of the tragedy and compelled to give, as have people around the country and the world.
While some are sending teddy bears and money, others have turned to doing good deeds.
The campaign has gone viral.
It might have been launched days after the shooting by NBC News correspondent Ann Curry when she tweeted: “Imagine if all us committed to 20 mitzvahs/acts of kindness to honor each child lost in Newtown? I’m in. If you are RT #20Acts.”
The movement eventually included 26 acts for all those killed in the school.
The Facebook page “26 Acts of Kindness” had over 80,000 “likes” Monday and #26Acts was streaming on Twitter last week.
People are sharing their acts-of-kindness stories on social media, from finding $20 gift cards hidden in random spots at stores to paying for coffee for the person behind them in the drive-through.
Carr is choosing her acts of kindness as they come up.
A couple of weeks ago, her friend from St. Francis Church, Debbie Hovanasian, came home from doing her own act of kindness and found a surprise on her front porch.
Hovanasian drives her friend to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston for treatment once a week.
The pair left Dracut at 9 a.m. and didn’t return until 6 p.m.
After a day of several appointments and treatment for Hovanasian’s friend, both women were exhausted, although they sang Christmas carols slogging through the rush-hour traffic.
Hovanasian was thinking about what she would make for dinner when she got home.
When she pulled in the driveway, she found a cooler filled with a quart of clam chowder from the Chowder Factory, one of her favorites, along with oyster crackers and praline cookies.
“I’m thinking, ‘What the heck is this?’ ” recalled Hovanasian. “‘I have no idea who left it or why.'”
Hovanasian immediately suspected the anonymous donor was Carr.
“I probably will never forget that,” said Hovanasian. “When something comes to you when you really need it and don’t expect it, that’s what makes it really meaningful.”
Carr also went back to her former students’ classroom Friday with sugar cookies.
“They just loved that,” she said. “They’re simple little sugar cookies, but it’s a big deal to them because some of them never get homemade cookies.”
Carr said she received lots of “beautiful hugs.”
“I got much more out of it than they did,” she said.
Carr was reluctant to be named for this story, but thought her former students might be inspired by her acts of giving and “pay it forward.”
Although Carr is no stranger to doing acts of kindness — Hovanasian said Carr would bake treats for her students every holiday — being part of the 26-acts-of-kindness campaign is special for her.
“You get joy from giving joy,” Carr said.
Follow Sarah Favot on Twitter @sarahfavot.