Twelve years ago, a stranger’s choice to pay for three kids’ haircuts unknowingly sparked over a decade of generous holiday acts of kindness from a New Hampshire family.
Money was tight, said mother-of-three Krista Butts, now a middle school academic interventionist who was then out of work.
“We were depending on our church for help with Christmas presents, and we got food baskets from them,” Butts told USA TODAY.
Her husband of 25 years, University of New Hampshire Sgt. Jeff Butts, logged around 80 hours a week with the Exeter Police Department to provide for their young sons – Ryan, now 13; Kyle, 17; and Tyler, 19.
Krista Butts said she had saved enough money to freshen up her children’s looks, and was overcome with emotion after learning her boys’ Great Clips haircuts were prepaid in full.
“I could have kept the money, and I should have probably kept the money,” Butts said. But she didn’t.
That December, the unknown man’s acts inspired the mom and her sons to perform their own kind acts that day and every holiday season moving forward.
Seven days of kind acts each December soon blossomed into the Butts family’s month-long annual Christmas Kindness Project.
“That’s how it all got started,” Butts said.
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One kind act inspires a decade of generosity
That day, Butts brought her sons to a nearby Walmart and bought three $10 gift cards, she said. She gave each son a card and instructed them to walk around the store together to find people who they thought could use them.
After handing out the gift cards to their first two strangers, the boys found a mom with two kids near the dairy aisle who seemed to be the perfect third recipient.
“They wanted everything, they kept going down the aisle asking for stuff,” Butts recalled of the woman appearing visibly upset. “She said, ‘no, we can’t get that this week.’”
Butts’ sons gave her the card and wished her Merry Christmas. When Butts asked why they chose the woman, they replied, “Because she reminded us of you.”
It was an “awesome parenting moment” Butts said she’d never forget.
The 25 Days of Christmas Kindness Project
Each year since, the family has performed random acts of kindness around the holidays for 25 days. Starting Dec. 1, the Butts family members pick something nice to do for someone each day leading up to Christmas.
“It can be as simple as helping someone, holding a door, paying for a coffee,” Krista Butts said.
“We usually try to pay for at least one family’s meal, we reward public servants with food and treats, drop off decorated wreaths, Christmas decorations or meals to neighbors or strangers,” she said.
Eight years ago, the family began reserving one of their kindness days for a big project. Last year, they drove around leaving 100 candy- and note-filled Christmas baskets on strangers’ doorsteps.
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“A few years ago, we helped a disabled veteran decorate their house at Christmas,” Jeff Butts said. “It didn’t cost us anything but a few moments of our time.”
One year, their sons decorated mini candy canes with 250 kind holiday messages and drawings to give to Walmart’s Christmas Eve shoppers. Another year, the family wrote about 400 inspirational sticky-note messages to place on their middle school’s lockers.
Spontaneity makes a difference
Long before she ever gave birth, Butts was like a mother to her friend group, said her friend of 32 years and former next-door neighbor Edward Prisby, a trial attorney based in Lexington, Massachusetts.
“Krista was always very kind, making sure everyone got home safe and was the first to stick up for her friends – fiercely at times,” Prisby told USA TODAY.
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When his dad died in 2007, Butts’ family supported his mom with whatever she needed while he lived two hours away.
“It comes as absolutely no surprise that (Krista) has turned out to be who she is now,” Prisby said.
When Butts lost her own dad last year before Thanksgiving, getting through her family’s December kindness ritual was tough.
“I really wasn’t feeling like doing anything nice for anyone because I was suffering,” she said. Still, they kept at it.
“If we hadn’t done it, we would have really dwelled on our own situation, and doing something nice for (others) was exactly what we needed to do for ourselves,” she said.
The mom of three has told her kids – who dressed up as Easter bunnies to wave at children during the pandemic – that she doesn’t care what they choose to be, as long as they are kind. Krista Butts was once told that giving back is a “good kind of selfish.”
The family has gotten no community recognition for their good deeds, but that’s not why they do it, she said.
“We try hard to go places where people don’t know us and just enjoy the spontaneity of it all, because I think it means more to people when it’s a stranger doing something nice for you,” she said. “I don’t know why that makes a difference, but I think for people, it does.”
Story Credit: usatoday.com