She shares joy of giving with growing army of ‘Sparklers’
Peachtree City resident Debbie Lowre McFarland had forgotten her coat one cold, windy day last month and was hurrying down an Atlanta sidewalk passing people she figured to be homeless but not really paying attention to them when she almost missed her opportunity.
“I walked past a bundled up man and then backed up,” she said. “I could’ve kept going. Normally, I would’ve. I had my own path, agenda, for the day. But something inside of me, that sparky tugging on my heart, told me to go back. You know that little Jiminy Cricket, also known as your conscience, that taps you on the shoulder and says, ‘Hey, you can make a difference.’ Well, when you stop for a moment, and really listen, really hear it and then follow through, man … it feels good.”
McFarland almost missed “Earl,” a man obviously down on his luck, but a man who gave more to her than she gave to him that day.
“Earl and I had sat down like old buddies, talked about real deep problems, both of us,” she said. “We shared a thing of fries and each had a hot dog.”
Earl talked about his children and hung his head low, not meeting her eyes. But when McFarland shared her own story of grief and loss that had been welling up inside of her for some time, “his eyes met mine and those tired, beautiful eyes welled up … ‘I’m so sorry, Debbie,’ he said. When I left, I realized that if I had not listened to that little tugging on my heart to turn back, to do the right thing, I would have missed out. Me. Not Earl,” McFarland said.
The joy of giving, not only material items, but of herself, is a lesson McFarland, 48, learned at her mother’s knee and is one she’s sharing with the world through a Facebook community page devoted to acts of kindness that keeps drawing new members every day.
The “Sparks of Kindness” page began in November and has more than 2,200 followers. “Sparklers,” as McFarland calls them, live in every corner from Minnesota to Texas and Seattle to Florida, and, of course, Fayette County and surrounding areas. Some even live in other countries. They are young and old, some are professionals and others are students, some have dedicated their lives to service and work as ministers or preachers and others just want to add a spark of kindness to the world that might ignite the desire in others.
The page is becoming so popular that McFarland is subdividing the main page into smaller community groups that can respond to urgent needs in their own areas.
“Sparklers” roam their communities “sparking” kindness with acts that range from something simple like picking up the tab for the person behind them in line at a drive-through restaurant to gathering donations for a single mother’s power bill so her children can return home from the neighbor’s house where they were sent to stay warm when the electricity was turned off.
Sparklers have collected furniture and appliances, food and clothing for those in need, but they also leave quarters in the sand on a playground so kids can find them or they buy coffee for a stranger in Starbucks. They clean the ice off coworkers’ windshields and they hand out candy like this Georgia sparkler who thanked McFarland on Facebook.
“OK, Debbie. You inspired me! I made packets of candy with little notes attached: ‘Kindness is Contagious, Have a smile-Give a Smile, Magical and Marvelous,’ and ‘Have a good Weekend.’ Taped notes to candy and put one on each windshield at school. All the parents picking up thought I was crazy so I threw a few in cars, too. Great Fun. Oh yeah, crossing guards, too. Made me feel good. The best part, no one will know it was me. It’s just random! Great way to start the weekend. Thanks for the inspiration!”
They all have one thing in common, though, and that’s the lesson McFarland’s mother taught — the joy of giving. “She was just always like that,” McFarland said of her mother, Charlene Crozier, who passed away last year.
“I grew up dirt poor,” McFarland added. At times, “we had a hot plate, no stove or kitchen. But I was always taught by my mom that even if you don’t have anything to give, you give of yourself. Look outward instead of inward. Take the focus off yourself when you’re having a hard time because you don’t think about when you’re taking care of others. We didn’t even know we were poor. We didn’t feel sorry for ourselves.”
Sparklers obviously agree with the philosophy because they continuously write to McFarland about the joy they feel. “When you’re helping others, it brings you to a higher level,” she said. “It gives you like a natural high.”
McFarland was a sparkler long before she coined the term. “I just had a fire in me to help people,” she said. “You never know what kind of struggle someone is going through. Just remember every single person has their own battle and you might give them this one little spark that helps them keep going.”
McFarland once papered her sister’s apartment with encouraging messages written on post it notes, and she has flirted with temporary Facebook projects.
During the 40-day Lent period last year, she set up a temporary Facebook page asking others to participate in small random acts of kindness and “it just took off like wildfire,” she said. “Everyone kept asking if I would do it on a permanent basis. I thought about it … I decided to go ahead and do it big.”
Those wanting to join McFarland’s army of sparklers can do so by typing “Sparks of Kindness” into the Facebook search option or going to https://www.facebook.com/groups/747076662042246/. Once there, click on the “join” button.