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Saturday, August 23, 2014

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Spread kindness, not drunken recklessness

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Two childhood friends from Toronto are joining other young people around the world who are putting a positive twist on a potentially dangerous Internet craze, spurring their peers to do a mitzvah in an effort called Feed the Deed.

Russell Citron and Josh Stern, both 22, watched a YouTube video earlier this month of Brent Lindeque, a South African who gave a homeless man a sandwich, chocolate bar and Coke.

Lindeque’s selfless act inspired them to be Good Samaritans. Citron bought a cupcake for a random person during his lunch break. Stern handed out sandwiches to homeless people as he walked home from an exam at the University of Ottawa, where he’s a medical student. Both uploaded videos of their good deeds to Facebook.

When Citron found out that Stern was doing something similar – with a clip that featured the catchy slogan and hashtag #feedthedeed – he called Stern in the hope of aligning the idea with his own non-profit organization, Kindness Counts.

“We both agreed that the goal here is to make the biggest impact possible and inspire people to be kind,” says Citron, president of Kindness Counts and a consultant at Monitor Deloitte. “From there, the response [on social media] has been really inspiring.”

Feed the Deed and Lindeque’s challenge are a more positive spin on Neknominations, a drinking challenge that has gone viral online and which Lindeque changed to become a challenge to perform acts of kindness.

For Neknominations, young adults post footage of chugging (or “necking”) a drink and then dare their friends to do something even more outrageous, usually involving binge drinking. The online challenge has been linked to two deaths in Ireland.

At the end of their videos, Citron and Stern each nominated three friends to continue doing random acts of kindness within 24 hours, then record a video or take photos of their kind acts, share them on Facebook and forward the challenge to a few more friends.

“It feels really good to help people, and you might as well put your money to good use instead of booze,” Stern wrote in a Feed the Deed Facebook post, hoping to shift friends away from the unhealthy viral sensation.

A week after it began, Stern says the movement had inspired more than 250 Feed the Deed videos, and its reach is expanding by the day.

“I was raised in a very loving family built on a very strong foundation of giving back and kindness,” says Stern, who has volunteered with Magen David Adom in Israel. “I’ve always been a strong believer in acts of kindness and this is the perfect project for something like that.”

Citron’s non-profit initiative, Kindness Counts, is focused on spreading kindness in creative ways. It shares its initials with Citron’s uncle, Ken Citron, who died of cancer in 2004. The organization is a tribute to him.

“I think that society views kindness as a very passive concept,” he says. “There’s some attitude toward being kind now that it’s not the cool thing to do. It’s not fun. But in order to really make an impact and get people talking at their dinner tables, you have to be creative and unconventional in the way you address kindness.”

One of Stern’s nominated friends, Ben Cowley, went to Tim Hortons and gave a staffer at the drive-through window $35 to pay for the warm drinks of the customers behind him.

“It felt good,” Cowley says. “I liked the idea of being anonymous, reminding us that sometimes people are just out there to do something nice and cheer people up without recognition.”

Feed the Deed and Lindeque aren’t the only ones around the world putting a more positive spin on the Neknominations concept.

RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) Nominations is a craze that launched in Australia and became very popular when the #raknominations tag trended on Twitter. Social media has been key to mobilizing so much generosity among the public.

“I was so excited immediately when I heard about this,” says Nicole Rosenberg, president of the Jewish Student Union at Forest Hill Collegiate in Toronto. “It’s such a positive initiative. I thought that was a much better way to use social media [than Neknominations].”

Among the people nominated to keep feeding the deed are celebrities such as NBA superstar LeBron James (whom Citron nominated), astronaut Chris Hadfield and comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.     Citron also posted a message on the Kindness Counts Facebook page asking friends to nominate and tag the Ellen DeGeneres Show with the hope of spreading Feed the Deed to a North American audience.

Many Feed the Deed videos are in a hub on the Kindness Counts Facebook page. Citron told The CJN that he’s considering making the kindness initiative an annual event every February.

“It’s incredibly inspiring to see how many people actually go out and do acts of kindness and care,” Citron says. “If this entire initiative just inspired one video, if it made just one person’s day… the entire thing would be worth it.”

For updates on Feed the Deed as it moves forward, “like” the Kindness Counts page on Facebook.

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