WELLSVILLE - Joni Rodgers Logston wasn't sure exactly how she was going to spend Sept. 9 when it rolled around this year, but one thing was certain: It was likely to be an enormously difficult day for she and her husband, Steve Logston.
That's because Sept. 9 was the birthday of Joni's daughter, Chelsea Lingenfelter - the first birthday since her death this past Feb. 18 during a liver transplant operation at The Cleveland Clinic. Chelsea would have been 22 years old.
Joni said she knew that facing the day without her daughter for the first time would be very painful and was looking for a way to give meaning to Chelsea's birthday without dwelling on the loss. She and Steve found the answer in giving back to the community that had shown her family so much love during Chelsea's illness.
"For us, it was a personal thing: How are we going to get through the day? That's what was motivating us," Joni said. "There was nobody to buy presents for, so we came up with this idea to just give presents to other people."
According to Steve, their initial hope was to give monetary donations to the families of patients in the pediatric oncology ward at The Cleveland Clinic, where Chelsea spent months battling the liver disorder that would claim her life. He and Joni could sympathize with the long family stays at the hospital, which grow very expensive outside of the medical care itself.
"Even if they have insurance, the cost of parking, gasoline, eating up there, just gets really big," Steve said. Hospital officials decided against the idea, however, erring on the side of caution regarding patient privacy regulations.
Instead, Joni and Steve had decided to redirect their efforts toward random people and strangers they encountered throughout the area. A chance encounter with an elderly woman with a walker, whom they held a door open for at the Bob Evans in Calcutta, put a name to the idea. "She said, 'Oh, you're just doing a random act of kindness,'" Joni said. According to her, that was the eureka moment.
The Logstons are adamant that they didn't want to trumpet their acts of kindness or receive any recognition. Indeed, The Review only found out about the couple's generous efforts after receiving a press release from the Sparkle Market in Chester, stating that the Logstons had paid the grocery bill of a random woman they encountered in the store.
"I think it's great that there are still people nowadays that will be that generous," store manager Jordan Thompson said in the release. "It looked like they picked someone that could really use it."
In addition to their checkout line assistance at numerous area stores, the couple paid for a day's music lessons at a music shop and bought breakfast for a stranger at a local restaurant, among other related kindnesses. They also convinced a friend to bring her service dog to visit the residents at a pair of area nursing homes. "I said, 'Thank you!' Chelsea loved the dogs coming into the hospital," Joni said.
Joni and Steve say they plan on making Sept. 9 a "Random Act of Kindness Day" every year from now on. They've contacted friends and acquaintances, and hope to inspire others to give birthday presents, in Chelsea's honor, to random strangers who just happen to be in need around the valley.
It's a tribute they're certain she would be happy with. "If Chelsea knew that we were sad or despondent, it would really upset her," Steve said. "When we do things like this in her honor, it's really gratifying. It perpetuates her."