Niagara Gazette

December 12, 2013

DELUCA: Her best day ever

Michele DeLuca commentary
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Sandra Lahrache turned 50 on Wednesday. It was, she said, the best day of her life. 

Her original plan was to celebrate by doing fifty nice things, but the day kind of spiraled out of control. As a result, there was a little epidemic of kindness that spread throughout the region.

The idea came to her last summer when she was having dinner with her teenage son, Zach, at a restaurant in Lewiston. They happened to notice an older man dining alone. When he saw Sandra and her son having a chocolate lava dessert, he commented on how good it looked.

On a whim, Sandra quietly ordered another dessert, and asked that it be given to the man without saying who’d paid for it. The waitress told the guy there’d been an extra one in the kitchen. He was, as you can imagine, delighted by the unexpected surprise.

With that action, Sandra got hooked on a sort of kamikaze niceness — swooping in and doing something to bring a smile to someone’s face and then disappearing, when possible, before being detected. 

It’s not like she wasn’t already engaged in a life of service. A mom with two kids, she worked at a foundation in Lewiston that assists families when a rape has occurred. She also volunteers as a rape crisis counselor. And, though her work might sound depressing, she told me she feels a certain joy in helping others. She wanted to do more.

As her 50th birthday loomed, she told her people that, instead of gifts, she wanted everyone to do a good deed. They were on board, but not particularly as enthused as she.  

The day of her birthday she rose at 4:30 a.m. and her first action was to write love letters to the most important family and friends in her life. Then, she and her friend, Shoshanna Cogan, dropped in at Heart, Love and Soul where they chopped broccoli and organized silverware for the lunch crowd at the soup kitchen. It was Sister Beth Brosmer who heard her story and phoned me and said, “You are going to love this woman’s story.” Of course, I did.

After the food pantry, they stopped at Casey House, a shelter for homeless teens, where they delivered gift bags of clothes and personal items they had collected. They made another stop at Community Missions and dropped off more bags.

Then, they stopped at Buffalo State to drop off Christmas cookies for Sandra’s daughter, Zahra, 18, a freshman art student there, and there were plenty cookies to share.

At lunch in a North Tonawanda restaurant, Sandra spotted a a girl with great hair and said, “You have the coolest haircut.” The girl walked away clearly uplifted by the compliment. After secretly paying for the lunch of a woman dining alone, they left a note on the table telling the waitress she was a beautiful person.

Then, it was off to Caroline’s House, a residence for women learning self-care. They dropped off clothing and, when they found out it was also the birthday of one of the residents, gave her money to take her kids out to dinner. Just for the fun of it, Shoshanna put quarters in all the coin-operated machines in the residents’ laundry room.

The kindness grew exponentially. When Sandra’s husband, Ahmed, told a woman at work about his wife’s birthday effort, she was so inspired she immediately began a collection and raised $300 to buy toys for kids in need. Another friend of Sandra’s bought a journal and has asked all their mutual friends to write their good deed “gifts” in the keepsake book.

There’s so much more. Twenty pounds of cat food was dropped at the lady at DeRivier’s Jewelers in Lewiston for the lady who saves cats. Sandra’s dog Lili made her debut as a therapy dog at a local nursing home and the reaction that dog brought to the residents and staff made Sandra’s voice crack as she recalled it. “Seeing the joy in their eyes, I was so overwhelmed doing that I can’t wait to go back again.”

The day ended at the Community Mission soup kitchen where Sandra was joined by her husband, Ahmed, and their son, Zach, to help serve dinner to those at the shelter.  

When the day ended, she was exhausted, but lit from within by the greatest birthday she’d ever had.

I don’t know about you, but Sandra was just the thing I needed for my holiday season. She’s inspired me to raise my niceness game, not just during the holiday season but the whole year though. Clearly, I’m not alone. As a result, much kindness will overflow into 2014, inspired by just one woman.

You have to admit, that is one heck of a birthday.