Inspired to spread the word, man's #26Acts Facebook effort goes viral

Inspired to spread the word, man's #26Acts Facebook effort goes viral
Warren Tidwell checks in on the 26 Acts of Kindness Facebook page he started to promote the acts of generosity.

POSTED: Thursday, December 20, 2012 - 1:45pm

UPDATED: Thursday, December 20, 2012 - 1:49pm

After covering the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., NBC News’ Ann Curry wondered what could be done to ease the national suffering over the loss of 26 children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary. Why not, she tweeted, commit to doing one act of kindness for every child killed there? People responded – and wanted to up that to 26 acts of kindness for every child and adult lost at the school. Now, people around the country are committing random acts of kindness – connected through the hashtag #26Acts (#20Acts and others are also trending).

On the day of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., Warren Tidwell came home early from work because he wasn't feeling well. As he watched the story unfold on TV, his heartwrenching feeling only worsened. "I had to do something," the 34-year-old auto parts salesman told NBC News. He logged onto Facebook and within minutes had started a new page: 26 Acts of Kindness.

The idea was simple. Commit to performing one act of generosity for each of the victims lost in the massacre, and share the results. He posted a photo of his first act, giving a box of chocolates to an unknown woman at his local supermarket in Auburn, Alabama. Attached to the box was a note that read, "To honor the 26 taken from us at Sandy Hook we are doing 26 acts of kindness. You are #1."

He followed that act by giving a $10 gift card to hungry students at the deli, then picked out toys to give to the local firemen's Toys for Tots drive, and then prepared cookies to wrap and place on the windshields of first responders.

Warren's four-year old son celebrates their fourth act of kindess, donating toys to the local firemen's Toys for Tots drive.

"I felt empowered, instead of the helplessness, hurt, and fear," said Tidwell. "I can put the good back in the world that was taken from it."

As his spirit grew, so did the comments, submissions and "likes" on the Facebook page, which he handed over to NBC News to run and spread even further, withdrawing himself as page administrator, at 1,000 likes. It now has over 27,000. Watching the stories and comments roll in from around the country, was "cathartic," he said. One woman said her family was taking the money her family had budgeted for vacation and was splitting it into a $260 gift for each of her three children's teachers. Another handed out Christmas cards to strangers around town.

Reading these stories, "It was humbling to know I had a hand in that," said Tidwell.

26 Acts isn't Tidwell's first foray into charitable efforts. It all began in 1998, when his family returned to their home in Jasper, Alabama to find it had burned to the ground following a tornado. "I know what it's like to lose everything," said Tidwell.

Living in Tornado Alley, and with a father in the construction business, by 16 Tidwell was driving relief trucks after the area's frequent weather events. He volunteered for Katrina relief efforts, and also started Toomer's for Tuscaloosa after recent devastating tornadoes. Like 26 Acts, it began as a Facebook page, but grew to involve hundreds of thousands of individuals donating millions. Using social media sharing techniques, Tidwell said, the group got food and supplies to needy rural areas before state and federal agencies were able to arrive. Six months after buying a house with his wife, Tidwell left his job to run the group, which eventually became a non-profit organization. Tidwell has handed off the group to others to run but he uses the lessons he learned to drive his new projects.

"I'm just your average Joe, John Q Public," said Tidwell, "with a belief in the power of a common goal."

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