Today, I have two good people stories for you. Some days it’s so easy to be dragged down by the ongoing, never-ending news cycle that we forget some people are doing things to help others, whether human or critter or the environment. The people in these stories will serve as a reminder that … not everyone is a self-serving greedy #$%&*#.
Nandu & Rajappan
This is the story of two good men.
A passion for photography has always possessed this young engineer from Kerala, India. Now he knows there was a purpose, after a photo he took while walking around his village ended up changing a man’s life and getting a shout-out from India’s prime minister.
Carrying around a rented camera searching for stories, Nandu Ks found nothing particularly interesting until one day he came to a bridge.
“I was always keen to capture images which had a story to tell, images which had life. I noticed a man rowing a boat and collecting something from the river.”
The old man was N. S. Rajappan, and he’s been plucking plastic bottles from the river for years to earn a meager living. Paralyzed since the age of five when he was struck with polio, his daily routine has kept the waterways of Vembanad Lake clear of plastic—all from the seat of his small boat.
Without crutches, the 69-year-old would drag his legs a short way down the riverbank to the Meenachil River, after which he was free to wander the waters in search of bottles.
From the bridge that day, Nandu witnessed people throwing bottles into the river, while underneath a smiling Rajappan scooped them up.
Filling his boat with plastic only earns him about Rs 12 (17 cents), but it’s enough for a meal—and it’s satisfying to know he is helping the environment.
“Somebody should remove the waste from the water… I am doing what is possible for me.”
Nandu uploaded his story and photos to his Pro Media Facebook page, and people began retweeting it, including the UN Environment Program chief Erik Solheim, who suggested, “Let’s make this guy famous.”
The Indian Prime Minister, himself, Narendra Modi, then commended Rajappan’s efforts during his monthly radio address …
“I have seen news from Kerala which reminds us of our responsibilities. Imagine how highly he thinks! We must also take inspiration from him and contribute towards cleanliness as far as possible.”
Afterward, the story went completely viral, and inspired Indians to send gifts to the elder worker.
He’s been rewarded with a new motorboat, courtesy of a local businessman, and plans are in the works to build him a little home to replace the riverside shack that had been severely damaged in a storm. Best of all, a Bangalore-based company making wheelchairs has given him a heavy-duty motorized wheelchair. Said Nandu …
“With support coming in from thousands of people, both financially and morally, I could see his life changing. I always wondered what it felt like to follow your passion, but never knew its true feeling till the day I met Rajappan chettan (chettan=brother).”
And all of it happened because of one photograph.
“I went to him and showed him the photo I clicked. He smiled at me—and then I knew what it meant to be a photographer.”
The two have become good friends, and Nandu’s family invited him to dinner to show him the TV news segment featuring his good works.
“It takes a photographer to be at that moment and make that picture happen for the world to know the story.”
In this short video clip, only Indian is spoken, so you won’t likely understand the words, but you’ll feel the love. Sometimes words aren’t even necessary.
Tucked into a suburban Chicago train station may appear to be an unassuming coffee shop. But what’s going on behind the scenes is much more than just your average cup of Joe.
For the seventh year in a row the shop’s owner Pilot Pete, a.k.a. Peter Thomas, has been the driving force behind ‘Coffee With a Purpose’, an annual community initiative that collects and distributes coats and other necessities to help the local homeless population brave the harsh Midwest winters.
Thomas says the idea came to him when he was trying to find a way to give back to the community as well as get others involved. He admits he was initially unprepared for the positive avalanche of responses. In the weeks prior to Christmas in the drive’s first year, he and other volunteers took in 3,000 coats.
This year, for drive number seven, Thomas and crew helmed the Coffee With a Purpose command center from the back of a 26-foot moving truck. The humanitarian caravan made a total of six stops throughout greater Chicago. Pilot Pete’s brewed up 40 gallons of coffee for the occasion. The hot java was supplemented by donations from three other Elmhurst businesses eager to do their part. Baked goods came courtesy of Rough Edges Confectionery; the truck and a driver were provided Good Move Movers, and custom truck signage was the handiwork of Angel Fancy Design Studio.
At each stop, Thomas invited people up to “shop” for whatever they needed—free of charge. In addition to coats, there was a wide selection of blankets, socks, hats, gloves, scarves, and personal hygiene items to choose from, all collected, sorted, and hung by gung-ho community volunteers.
Thomas notes that with the added impact of COVID, there were more people in need than ever this time around.
“When we made this effort, all the shelters were on lockdown. No one was allowed in or out, that is, once you’re out, you can’t get back in, so there are more and more homeless people… This is a good year to be extra giving.”
But what Thomas and the community members who work alongside him are trying to achieve goes beyond merely handing out warm clothing and coffee. Forging a human connection with people who are so often invisible in society is an integral factor in their giving equation.
Thomas says making donations one-on-one makes it feel more genuine.
“You never know where someone has been or what someone’s been through before meeting them. With the homeless, we treat everyone the same or equal.”
According to Thomas’s proud mom, Joni Morgan, her son’s inclusive attitude is just who he is.
“Ever since he was a little he always would find the outsiders and pull them in to make them feel welcome.”
Thomas sees coffee as the perfect metaphor to inspire positive action.
“I love working with coffee as a tool of motivation to fuel and ignite people to soar beyond their expectations and to soar beyond society’s expectations. I’m fueling them and caffeinating them to do something better… something that will make them feel good about themselves so we can all grow together as one coffee family and fly beyond greatness.”
As of this writing, with plans for a new Elmhurst Metra station in the works, the future of Pilot Pete’s Coffee & Treats is a bit up in the air. Not surprisingly, the community he’s been rallying for years is now rallying behind him.
“Pilot Pete’s is more than a coffee shop. Peter Thomas gives back to our community in so many ways—from the annual coat drive for the homeless, school fundraisers, motivational quotes tucked into every cup sleeve, and more—his is the shining face every commuter needs to see. His ‘coffee with a purpose’ mentality is part of what makes Elmhurst a beautiful place,” reads the Change.org petition to keep Pete’s in place.
Since a tall, sweet, hot cup of coffee—laced with a heavy dollop of the milk of human kindness—is the kind of brew that belongs on everybody’s menu, here’s hoping Thomas will be able to continue serving up his special brand of hospitality for years to come.