ELKHART — Even something as small as a smile can brighten someone's day.
International Pay It Forward Day, a worldwide event, is aimed at encouraging people to do random acts of kindness throughout the day, whether it's holding open a door or just giving a stranger a smile.
This Thursday, April 24, has also been proclaimed a statewide Pay It Forward Day by Gov. Mike Pence and a citywide event by Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore.
At Eastwood Elementary School, the Pay It Forward Club prepared for the event during its meeting Tuesday evening, April 22.
Debbie Micola, president of Santa's Pantry and moderator of the Elkhart Pays It Forward Facebook page, runs the club and helps the 15 students complete service projects. She also wrote to the governor and mayor asking them to issue Pay It Forward Day proclamations.
The club recently held a chili dinner and raised $676 to help a local Cub Scout pack replace money that had been stolen from its bank account by a former leader.
"It feels good to help people," said Maggie Edel, 10, a fourth-grader, as she stuffed a piece of candy into a homemade "cracker."
At their Tuesday meeting, the club made crackers — toilet paper tubes stuffed with candy and wrapped in colored paper — to distribute with a message encouraging people to perform random acts of kindness Thursday.
"It can be the littlest thing," Micola said. "It just brightens their day. It really encourages people."
It was one of these random acts of kindness that saved Micola's life.
On Dec. 1, 1991, Micola was driving with her 7-year-old daughter when their car went off a bridge and into a river. Two strangers jumped into the water to help them.
"They kept saying, 'We're not heroes, we're just normal people doing something nice for someone,'" Micola said. "That always stuck with me."
Several years later, she was volunteering at a local food pantry and the pantry ran out of food. She had to explain to a man that she had no food to give him and his two children.
"That broke my heart," she said. "It was like a wake-up call to me. That’s what I’m supposed to do to help people in our community."
She created Santa's Pantry in 2008 to raise money for food pantries and find other ways of helping the community.
In January 2014, in the wake of a shooting at an Elkhart Martin's Super Market, Micola created the Elkhart Pays It Forward page to allow people to share their positive pay-it-forward experiences.
"The community needed some encouraging, positive things to hear about," she said.
The stories shared on the Facebook page range from small acts like helping someone pick up things they dropped to shoveling a neighbors driveway or paying for a stranger's groceries.
"A lot of times you hear how someone was having a horrible day, and then someone helped carry groceries or held a door open and it just made their day," Micola said.