SAN ANTONIO — A courteous but inquisitive email chain. A few phone calls. Lunch at the members-only Club Giraud gave twelve San Antonio women time to question the journalist who would interview them.
"We don't seek recognition. We really don't want recognition," Barbara Gentry said. "We just want to do good things, do kind things, and inspire others to do the same."
Gentry is one of three women who strategically selected members for a group called 'Random Acts of Kindness.' Karen Presley and the late Lorenda Collier Wright are the other two. The rest of the members don't want to be identified.
"We wanted to make sure that first of all, everybody had a passion for service and care; that was the basis," Gentry said. "But we wanted a group that we felt would work well together and be cohesive."
The template got borrowed from a friend. But the women quickly made decisions about how things should flow.
For example, their private meetings get generally held at a member's home. No fancy food allowed. It's a no-judgment zone where sisterhood and cause rule the day.
"The twelve of us consider ourselves sisters in kindness," Gentry said.
Each July, the women select a month where they carry out acts of kindness. That's the base, not the limit.
$300 begins the monthly 'Kindness pot' of money. Acts are not limited to that amount, nor do the group's courtesies have to be money-driven.
"It genuinely is spirit-led it that the way," Presley said. "All of a sudden, God will just reveal something, or somebody will just feel like I need to go this direction."
The acts are as anonymous as the women can make them. Even though members have been known to hang out covertly to watch reactions.
They leave a business card with print on both sides as they mark of goodness. One side reads, "Love thy neighbor."
The other side, "Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world; you can do it one act at a time."
Most of the women used to work for USAA or have high-ranking military husbands. While they may find examples of service from both, kindness is a lifestyle.
"I guarantee you; I'm the one at the end of the day who received the biggest blessing from any act that I've ever done or thought about doing it," Presley said. "I'm just overwhelmed by the goodness that gets returned."
Their acts of kindness get filed away in a brown binder. So far, they have six years of reports and pictures that document their actions.
Presley remembers going into the waiting area in an emergency room to pass out gift cards so that families could get a free meal. The group helped fire victims who lost everything. They've assisted children with eyeglasses and hearing aids. Duty called them to buy clothes for the homeless and the elderly who may get discharged with paper scrubs to wear home.
"People who get overlooked or who you don't always just stop and talk to them," Presley said.
The women have given gift cards to maids cleaning rooms in roadside motels. They've also handed out goody bags to San Antonio Police and VIA Transit bus drivers.
"You've got a lot of like, spammy emails," Cara Pitts said. "But something about this one, I was like, let me reply."
Pitts and her husband, Marcus, opened Southern Roots Vegan Bakery in 2019. The business is an online company recreating Southern classics in a plant-based way.
They got an email from the women of random acts of kindness. The women wanted to donate $500 toward cooking treats for healthcare workers at hospitals.
"We matched their donation, and then we ended up being able to provide treats for the entire Baptist hospital," Pitts said. "It was over 1200 employees. We wanted to make sure every staff member at all shifts got, you know, some kindness."
That act kept the Pitts connected to the women who have become frequent customers.
The spirit of kindness goes a long way, said therapist Kimberly VanBuren.
"We say kind so easily," she said. "It's such a used word that it's almost trite, but a lot of people don't know what kindness is, and they haven't experienced it."
VanBuren, who practices family and marriage therapy, deals with her share of conflict. She sees the system of family and community similarly.
"So, recognizing that we're all a system. So that family, that's the micro. But then we turn to our community. It's our neighborhood, right," VanBuren said. "It's our country—all of these things. But we're all connected. And so you have to look at things from other people's points of view."
Political and racial conflict in recent years has dominated news cycles and social media feeds—domains where kindness appears devoid.
"Usually, conflict does come from us thinking about ourselves so much," she said. "And we want what we want. We want it now. And so being kind promotes a way of resolving that."
VanBuren said kindness is something to practice on purpose. It's a concept that has not escaped the women of random acts.
"I don't think you can have inclusion without kindness," Presley said. "And I don't think you can have kindness without inclusion. I think they are just absolutely inseparable."
For the women who gather for purpose, the topics that wedge a divide are disappointing.
"It's just not important," Gentry said. "We have more important things to do than worry about that. We have caring to do. We have kindness to go out and do. And we have an example to set for others to see, can we can do it."