Where do you find kindness? How about at an Arlington yard sale?

Susan Thompson-Gaines holds the Kindness Ideas box that a young neighbor made for her Kindness Yard Sale in Arlington (WTOP/Sandy Kozel)
Susan Thompson-Gaines’ reflection is seen in the window of the Little Yellow Free Pantry outside her Arlington home. (WTOP/Sandy Kozel)
Susan Thompson-Gaines unwraps a glass plate from Turkey that was donated to her Kindness Yard Sale in Arlington. (WTOP/Sandy Kozel)
Susan Thompson-Gaines wants to spread kindness. This weekend, she’s doing it through a big yard sale at her Virginia house. (WTOP/Sandy Kozel)
All the proceeds in this Arlington, Virginia, yard sale are spent on acts of kindness. (WTOP/Sandy Kozel)

Susan Thompson-Gaines wants to spread kindness. This weekend, she’s doing it through a big yard sale at her house.

She says it’s hard to miss the home she shares with her husband, David — it’s the yellow house with purple trim at the corner of South Second and South Fillmore streets in Arlington, Virginia. The big yard and wraparound porch come in handy holding many of the treasures being sold, such as clothing, toys, baby items, bikes, electronics, books, jewelry, artwork, a small portable washing machine and much more.

But what makes this yard sale different is that the proceeds are all spent on acts of kindness.

Back in 2015, Thompson-Gaines, who works as a sign language interpreter, wanted to find a project that would interest and inspire her. The 56-year-old decided to look actively for kindness, and she found that “you see it everywhere.”

Kindness can be found in simple things.

“Holding the door open for somebody, but also little things like if someone drops their grocery bag, three people rush to pick it up. As soon as I started looking, I saw it everywhere and realized if I’d been missing it that much, probably a lot of other people have too.”

So she started a blog called the Kindness Activist. Thompson-Gaines doesn’t buy the idea that talking about doing something kind is boasting.

“If you don’t share it and you don’t talk about it, then that little kindness ripple won’t spread to other people,” she said. For example, if a person hears of a shopper who helped another who was short $5 at the grocery checkout, then hearing about that may prompt that person to help out in a similar situation.

The Kindness Yard Sale, now in its third year, will be Saturday and Sunday. And this is how it works: Buyers “pay what they wish.”

Thompson-Gaines said getting the community to pool resources means raising more money. All the proceeds are used for random acts of kindness. She estimates that at least 60 families — including neighbors in South Arlington, members of the local Buy Nothing group and other Facebook groups, and even people just driving by — have contributed to this year’s sale, donating items and helping with the elaborate setup.

The proceeds have been used to buy toys; pay people’s dental bills, prescriptions, groceries; and even help pay rent.

“It built a Little Yellow Free Pantry that neighbors donate food to, and people who are experiencing food shortages come and eat from,” Thompson-Gaines said, adding that she accounts for every penny, and she writes about it in her blog.

She wants the people who shopped to read about where their contribution went. “That’s also a part of sharing the kindness stories,” she said. “If you read the blog and see where the money went, maybe you’ll be inspired to do something like that, too.”

She is careful about how she uses the money — nothing political or too controversial. “Just things that everyone who pitched in could support.”

As for that Little Yellow Free Pantry, built by her husband outside their home — she constantly restocks it.

“Neighbors donate so much food. I have a kitchen in the basement full of donations of food. And if they need rice and beans and cheese and eggs, I go down and make grocery bags and bring it out. I refill the pantry two or three times a day. It gets used a lot,” Thompson-Gaines said.

It sounds a bit like a full-time job in itself, right?

“It’s a good thing I work from home,” she said.

Sandy Kozel

Sandy Kozel is an anchor at WTOP. She came to WTOP after a long career as an anchor/correspondent with the Associated Press. She also worked in local radio in the Cleveland area — and in Buffalo, where she was an award-winning anchor and reporter with WGR Radio and entertainment reporter at WGRZ-TV.

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