Two sixth-grade girls in Orient went trick-or-treating for a friend who was too sick to celebrate Halloween. A woman in New Jersey held a door for a stranger on a difficult day. A man in Greenport helped a grieving friend by sharing a personalized playlist to lift her spirits.
These tiny, seemingly unrelated acts share a common thread: Mary Latham.
For the last several years, the Orient resident has dedicated her life to seeking out these stories in an attempt to prove — first to herself, then to the world — that there is good out there.
Ms. Latham’s three-year journey for “More Good Today” took her to all 50 states as she collected stories from strangers that she’s currently compiling into a book about generosity, kindness and compassion.
As the holiday season nears, she’s inviting people to once again share stories and acts of kindness for a new project, an offshoot of More Good, which will ultimately be turned into a heartwarming display in Greenport.
The concept behind the Postcard Project is simple: do one act of kindness, write it down (anonymously, if you prefer) on a postcard or small piece of paper along with your city and state and mail it to Ms. Latham in Orient. She’ll collect the stories and display them at Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport starting Wednesday, Dec. 14, which in many ways is More Good’s 10th birthday.
“It’s a small-scale project where I’m just trying to bring back the spirit of the movement,” Ms. Latham explained in an interview Monday. “Because it really all began with one small moment of kindness.”
The More Good journey began Dec. 14, 2012, the morning of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Ms. Latham was at her desk at work that morning, devastated by the news, when a colleague shared a story with her about his trip to work that day. He was picking up a cup of coffee at a Manhattan Starbucks when a man at the front of the line purchased a $100 card and asked the barista to use it on the customers behind him until it ran out.
“I can still see his face. He was glowing over that free coffee,” Ms. Latham recalled in an interview this week.
Later that night, as she lamented that it was hard to stay positive in a world with so many negative headlines, her mother, Pat, urged her to stay focused on the good.
“She said ‘Mary, you’ve got to remember the other story you told me. There’s always going to be tragedies and horrible things that will inevitably happen in our lives and in the world, but there will always be more good out there if you look for it.’ ”
As Ms. Latham tells it, those words became a “life raft” as she found herself coping with the loss of her mother from cancer just 10 weeks later on March 1, 2013.
The subsequent cross-country trip was more than just a soul-searching journey or passion project. It reminded Ms. Latham of the ever-present beauty surrounding us: The kindness of strangers. The ways — big and small — people rally to make the world a better place.
Sometimes, these stories do come in the form of a life-altering kidney donation or foundation started in memory of a deceased child. But more often, Ms. Latham said they came in the form of small, simple acts that made someone’s day. Returning a shopping cart to the corral in a parking lot. Allowing a driver to merge into your lane. Taking the trash out when you see the bin is full. Smiling. Saying “good morning.”
When asked to reflect about the most surprising parts of her mission, Ms. Latham said she’s still amazed at how simple it can be to impact someone’s life in a profound way.
“When we just take the time to look around, look up from our phones, and see what’s going on in our communities or at our neighbor’s house or wherever we’re looking, to see the need and offer a little bit of help … It could be nothing to us, but so much to them.”
Taking that time, she said, is what it comes down to.
“Really, that’s what kindness is: giving your time to think of another person and then actually carry out whatever it is you’re going to do, whether it’s a postcard or a kidney or flowers.”
As she embarks on this new project, Ms. Latham isn’t sure what to expect in terms of a response. But judging by the handful of postcards she’s already received and comments left on a social media post announcing the initiative, the message has already been spread across the North Fork and beyond, from Portsmouth, N.H., to Marshfield, Wis., Alaska, Hawaii and even overseas to the United Kingdom.
To assemble the display at the library, Ms. Latham will have help from Sally Grant, an arts exhibit curator at Floyd Memorial Library.
“It’s such a lovely community project,” Ms. Grant said Monday. “The idea of community, sharing goodness and sharing kindness and the library being there for everyone in the community just resonates with me. We’re there to help people as much as we can.”
Starting in early December, Ms. Grant said local residents can also share stories of good and kindness in person at the library by stopping in to write their message on postcards and gift tags that will be hung on the library’s tree.
Ms. Latham has also been speaking at assemblies at local school districts, where teachers hope to engage their classes to participate.
In addition to the display at the local library, Ms. Latham will also create a display that will hang among snowflakes at First + South in Greenport for a More Good holiday party on Thursday, Dec. 22, where people can view the artwork, read the messages and enjoy a glass of wine from 5 to 8 p.m.
Complimentary champagne and snacks will be served, but visitors should consider dining at the Greenport restaurant that day. A portion of their sales that day will be donated to help establish scholarships in honor of two hometown heroes: Dylan Newman, an 18-year-old from Southold who died from cancer in September, and Cindy Goldsmith-Agosta, an inspirational Greenport teacher whose sudden death in January rattled the community.
“We support Mary’s projects and we support kindness,” said First + South owner Sarah Phillips Loth. “The library is our neighbor and it’s the perfect place to engage multiple generations. Celebrating it together on our street will be like taking a refreshing breath of joy … a simple act turned to a grand feeling,” Mr. Loth said.
Do you have an act of kindness to share? Create your own postcard and mail it to P.O. Box 455, Orient, NY 11957 or text your story and an image that goes with it to 844-958-4397. Submissions can be anonymous but please include your city and state. For more information, visit moregoodtoday.com or follow More Good Today on social media.
Donations can also be made directly to The Cindy Goldsmith-Agosta Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 758, East Marion, NY 11939. Those who wish to donate to the forthcoming scholarship fund for Dylan Newman may send a statement of the desire to pledge, including the amount and contact information, to Dylan Newman Forever 5 at 485 Gardiners Lane, Southold, NY 11971 or by emailing [email protected]. After the fund is established, more information will be shared on how to donate.