A homeless man pays for your parking, friends fund a babysitter for a year — readers share tiny gifts that left a big place in their hearts

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

For most Americans, December is occupied with shopping, baking and visiting. It is, after all, a season of giving. But does it have to be the latest toy craze or biggest furniture bargain?

What about a medical technician who paints a Spider-Man mask for a child undergoing cancer treatments? Or friends who pool their money to pay a weekly babysitter for a mother? Then there is the stranger who hands a young couple $5,000 to help pay for fertility treatments.

Author Rachel Hunt Steenblik calls these “tiny kindnesses” and has been sharing them on social media. We liked the idea so much, we asked Salt Lake Tribune readers to share their most heartwarming stories of benevolence and generosity.

Consider it our “gift” to you to remind us all what real giving can be.

Here are the best ones, edited for space and clarity.

Superhero medicine

My son Isaac has Down syndrome. When he was about 15, he was diagnosed with leukemia, which took three years of grueling treatment. About five years after his recovery, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which came with another two years of treatment, including radiation at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. He was tired of hospitals and doctors by that time.

To prepare for radiation he had to be fitted with a hard mesh mask over his face. It would be used to keep his head to the side so the radiation would go to the right areas in his neck for his many treatments. We joked with him that it would be just like Spider-Man, whom he loved.

On her own, the technician took the mask home and painted it to look exactly like Spider-Man’s mask. Isaac was cheered by all the technicians when he showed up for each treatment wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt and putting on his Spider-Man “mask” for what turned out to be a successful treatment of his condition.

The technician who painted the mask, on her own time, made a terrible process into a much happier one for our brave young son.

Ann Larsen, Salt Lake City

(Photo courtesy of Ann Larsen) Isaac Larsen shows off the Spider-Man mesh mask a radiation technician made that he could wear during treatments.

Meter man

I was parking in downtown Salt Lake City for my son’s graduation and could only find a metered parking spot that took change. I had no cash, and I was scrounging under the seats of my car, when a homeless man approached and asked if I needed money for the meter.

I didn’t want to take money from him and said, “No, don’t worry. I can find something.”

He just started inserting coins and said, “This isn’t my money anyway — someone gave it to me, so I feel like I should help you.”

Lisa Evans Dame, Sandy

Baby gift

My daughter and husband were struggling to have a family and were saving for in vitro fertilization. They had recently moved into a new ward [of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], so when a stranger knocked on their door they assumed it was someone from their church.

The visitor wished them merry Christmas, handed my daughter a card and left. The card said “Good luck starting your family,” and included a cashier’s check for $5,000. They never saw her again.

Oh, we now have a lovely granddaughter with the kindness of a stranger.

Marilyn Dewey Granat, Idaho Falls

Sitting pretty

I have some friends who have done so many huge kindnesses for me. The one that stands out happened when my husband went to prison.

At the time I had a newborn, 1-year-old twins, a 2-year-old with special needs and an 8-year-old. To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. I was drowning and completely unable to catch my breath.

My dear friends pooled their money to get me a babysitter for one night a week for AN ENTIRE YEAR. And it saved me. No matter how overwhelmed I was, I knew I just needed to make it to Tuesday night and I would have a little breathing room again.

Sometimes I didn’t even leave the house, but just the chance to sit in my bed and read and not worry about changing four diapers and making four bottles — it really did make all the difference in the world.

I give 100% credit to these amazing women (and others who did similar kindnesses for my family) for allowing me to emerge from that hard and stressful time with my emotional and mental health intact.

Kalani Tonga, Midvale

Kind cosmetologist

My aunt, who lived with us, died the day I broke my arm. I was 17 years old and was asked to speak at her funeral because I spent a lot of time with her.

At the time, I had long hair and an awkward body image. My neighbor, who did hair in her home, took me to her house the day of the funeral, did my hair (I would have had problems with my broken arm) and lent me a dress to wear to the funeral. I will always be grateful to her.

Mary Cook, Salt Lake City

Good neighbor

My father was killed in a work accident 51 years ago. Although many people were kind to our family, the neighbor who took a few hours to spend time with me, a 10-year-old child, made such an important impact on my life.

She noticed that I needed to talk, and rearranged her schedule to give me the love and reassurance I needed at the critical time.

Judy Simpson, Mission, Texas

Snow angel

Our oldest son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when our youngest baby (No. 6) was 2 months old. We were trying to figure out our “new normal” with our son’s blood glucose readings, carb counts, insulin shots and middle-of-the-night blood sugar checks, on top of round-the-clock care of our newborn and other children.

One afternoon, I was sitting on the couch holding our newborn and 3-year-old, both asleep, as a snowstorm dumped inches outside our Bountiful home. My husband was at work, and I had just an hour to get the snow off our driveway before I needed to pick up our other kids from their schools.

All I really wanted to do was close my eyes and rest, but I got up and put my coat on to start the snowblower. I found our next-door neighbor, a man in his 60s, already snowblowing for me. He wouldn’t let me help and sent me back inside to wait. I was able to go rest for a few wonderful minutes.

Nicci Skouson Woffinden, Bountiful

Small things

I will always remember a wet towel in a Ziploc bag and two bottles of water, because small things can be great things.

When we moved from Southern California to southern Utah, I was in charge of moving our household, and my husband was responsible for relocating our business. We were pretty much starting over.

On the day the moving truck arrived, cherished friends helped pack my kitchen, while the movers loaded the truck. It was dark before I got into my vehicle to begin the drive to southern Utah, with my 4-year-old in a booster seat, two cats in their carriers, and a car packed with our most precious possessions. It was then that I noticed the Ziploc bag and bottles of water.

A fire had been raging in the Cajon Pass, and a dear friend was concerned that the smoke might be an issue as I drove north on Interstate 15. It will always be a reminder of friendship and service at a time when we were walking through fiery trials into the unknown.

Annette Copier Klassen, Cedar City

Sing praises

This happened when I was 37 weeks pregnant with my first baby. I was the Primary chorister in a big [Latter-day Saint] ward with separate junior and senior singing times and two nurseries.

My Sundays were very physical. On this particular Sunday, I just didn’t feel 100%. As I was walking the hall during sacrament meeting — because I was trying to get comfortable — my sweet neighbor asked if she could do my calling for me so that I could go home. I took her up on her very generous offer and went home to rest until dinner at another kind friend’s house.

My baby was born the next morning. It’s been more than 15 years, but I will never forget those kindnesses.

Sara Lee, Cedar City

Birthday book

In 1994, a sister-in-law — whom I never exchange gifts with — gave me the book “Motherless Daughters,” by Hope Edelman. This book rocked my world, but in a good way.

My mother died when I was 5 and this book was like 10 years of therapy in a single volume. It had and continues to have a big impact on my life. Having someone see that book and buy it for my birthday was huge.

Jennifer Briggs West, Holladay

Toddler time

It was many years ago, but it still brings me to tears: At seven months pregnant, I was put on bed rest for a week. We had just moved to Texas. I had not met many people and wasn’t sure how I’d handle my 2-year-old and also get rest.

The first morning I was left alone (husband had to go to work), the doorbell rang, and it was my next-door neighbor.

“I came to get Kaida,” she said.

She came every single morning, took complete care of my toddler for a week and allowed me to get the rest I needed.

Marcy Goodfleisch, Austin, Texas

Soup for the soul

We had just moved to Bountiful from out of state and had started attending a new church. We knew no one in the area.

A sweet and kind woman heard my wife cough during the general meeting and unexpectedly showed up a couple of hours after church with homemade chicken soup for our family, expressing concern that my wife might be ill.

It helped us feel so welcome in our new neighborhood, city and state.

Russ Ryan, Fresno, Calif.

Dancing king

A great kindness was shown to my son Marcus, who is autistic. When he was at East High School, a darling family friend asked him to a dance.

Savannah picked him up, joined with a big group of friends for dinner and the dance.

The next day at church many of the teenagers came to tell me that Marcus was dancing the worm and break dancing in the middle of a huge circle of kids. We didn’t even know that he knew how to dance.

No one can ever understand how kind this is unless you have a child with special needs. It was huge.

Wendee Russon, Salt Lake City

Cold night, warm heart

Just before Christmas, I was traveling from Tucson, Ariz., to Salt Lake City in an old truck containing all my belongings. I had a flat tire at night during a blizzard about 20 miles outside of Page. No cellphone service.

After a period of awful consternation, a Navajo man who lived on the nearby reservation, driving a dilapidated truck, pulled over to help. After at least 13 tries securing the jack, it finally held, and he was able to change the tire.

He wouldn’t take any money. I drove on to Page on that freezing night feeling warm and grateful beyond words.

Suzanne Gardner Stott, Salt Lake City

Giving a lick

I was living in North Carolina. I was in a new house, had a new job, my husband had left me, and my children were so angry.

Every night they battled with me or sobbed in my arms. Either way it was exhausting, and I was so lonely.

One night the mother of one of my son's friends showed up at my door with two cartons of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and said, “Let’s eat. You can laugh or cry or not say a thing. It’s all OK.”

I knew then that I would be OK.

Rachel Poulet, South Weber

Orange you nice

My husband and I had just moved to Japan with our two small children. I was expecting our third child, and all of the flights had left me exhausted and nauseated. Our kids felt similar.

We arrived at the hotel starving but too tired (and, for me, sick) to go get food. But a casual acquaintance had arranged for a welcome basket to be in our room. It had the easy-peel oranges and other small snacks, along with a sweet note.

The oranges were the only thing that calmed my stomach. I can never look at one now without thinking of her and how she saved me that night.

Wendy Watkins Remley, Syracuse

Gracious grandma

My son Jonathan was in afternoon kindergarten, and his best friend, Josh, was taken care of by his grandmother who lived with the family.

I agreed to take care of Josh after school for three weeks while the grandmother went to visit family, with a warning that — while I had never delivered early — I was eight months pregnant and she needed to have a backup plan. Sure enough, my youngest came two weeks early. Good thing the backup plan worked.

When the grandma was back, she showed up at my door the first day to pick up Jonathan for school and informed me that she would do so every day. He walked home with his older sisters, but I didn’t have to worry about waking the baby, or the weather, or anything to get him to class. She didn’t drive, and they would pass the school and walk the additional four blocks to my house to get my son, and then walk back to the school, from early March till mid-June. It was a real kindness and help.

Marian Jeppson Stoddard, Provo

Paradise lost and found

Just over a year ago, we lost our home and community of 32 years in Paradise, Calif., to the worst wildfire in the state’s history.

As we moved from motel to motel, trying to figure out the solution to our temporary homelessness, we were simply amazed by myriad tender mercies. One couple paid for our breakfast when they overheard us telling our waitress we were from Paradise. On another occasion, our server insisted on comping our meal. True refugees from far worse trials — whether from Somalia, Eastern Europe or Latin America — refused to accept the modest tip we always leave for the maid who makes up our room.

Perhaps the sweetest kindness was in an elevator when a man sporting dreadlocks and “gang” apparel simply embraced me when he learned we were from Paradise.

“I’ll be praying for you, brother. What’s your name?”

And indeed, we were sustained and bolstered by his prayers and those of hundreds of others as we went about the painful, but ultimately successful, business of rebuilding our lives.

Roger Ekins, Jacksonville, Ore.

Good Samaritans

It was Christmas Eve. I was late leaving work and walked out without my coat. And, yes, it was snowing. I ran out of gas on the freeway. This was before cellphones. I seriously considered walking to the next exit, when a beat-up old van pulled up.

A middle-aged woman and her son opened the door and told me to get in. They took me to a phone at a nearby store, and then waited for my husband to get there. They wouldn’t take any money, and I never got their names. They will never know that they saved me from despair.

To this day, I say a little “thank you” under my breath when I think of their kindness.

Patty Paulsen, South Jordan

Unassuming saint

My dad had always been a bit of a cantankerous recluse, choosing to spend his time taking care of my disabled mom and elderly grandparents or putting on projects in his workshop.

On the day of his funeral, it snowed all night and all day. But an endless line of people showed up, telling us stories about a kindness he had done.

After noticing a neighbor trying to dig out a tree stump, my father came over in his truck and pulled it out; he mowed an elderly neighbor’s lawn every week for years; he slipped cash to someone in need; he dug out another person stuck in the snow. He often didn’t say a word to them. He just showed up, helped them and left. Story after story. He never told us he did those things.

So many people came, we had to open a second chapel for the overflow. In my hours of greatest sorrow, the people he had touched repaid me by sharing stories about what a silently kind man my father had been.

Christine Ward Morr, Salt Lake City

Friend indeed

I was in the hospital with a severe infection. My wife was out of town and not able to get back for a couple of days. And my two sons (ages 18 and 12) were at home.

A good friend sat with me in the hospital, made calls to a doctor in our [Latter-day Saint] stake, and took my boys out for lunch the day after surgery.

My son, who was about to leave for college, appreciated that someone reached out, because a hospital is a depressing place for kids, and being at home was giving him too much time to think.

Kevin Gee, Keller, Texas

Sweet sopranos

My “people” are my community choir, particularly the soprano section. I recently was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. I fell on the concrete, aggravating my condition. It was less than two weeks to our concert. I was in charge of buying cards and presents for our section leaders. Somehow the cards, each wrapped in cellophane, got wet.

One of my soprano friends saw me, grabbed her coat and sat by me. She saw what needed doing, wiped the cards off, all the while reassuring me all would be OK.

I was anxious about walking up the few steps to the stage. There was help on every side. One of my soprano friends saw that I was using my cane incorrectly. She gently asked if she could teach me. She walked me to my car every rehearsal night.

Judith Barnard, Vancouver, British Columbia