In a country where food banks are a necessity for thousands and the poverty gap is ever-widening, it can be easy for those who need an occasional helping hand to become swallowed up in a void – like a lost penny down the side of the sofa.
Luckily for them, Jaime Thurston wasn’t going to let that happen.
After realising that there were many people who were in dire need of a boost, the mum-of-two launched 52 Lives – a website which aims to change someone’s life every week of the year through small yet collective, random acts of kindness.
The journey began when Thurston was furniture shopping online. The stay-at-home mum was perusing a second-hand furniture website when she came across a Wanted advert which immediately drew her in.
“It was a young single mum looking for rugs to cover her broken floor, so her children wouldn’t cut their feet,” she tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle.
“She sounded desperate, so I got in touch with her to see if there was anything else she needed. She had fled a bad domestic situation and was starting again with nothing.”
The more Thurston found out about the stranger online, the more she began to think that if other people knew about her, they’d want to help too.
“People are good and want to help each other,” she says. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of linking the people that need help with those that are willing to help. And so I decided to start a Facebook page to do just that.”
Since that moment, the idea has gone from strength to strength – mainly through word-of-mouth – and now, 52 Lives has an official website and is able to offer help to someone new each week by connecting them with the right people.
The initiative is coordinated by Thurston but, she says, much of the work is done by the thousands of people who visit their website, share their requests for help and offer support to people they don’t know (and will probably never meet).
“It is based on the simple premise that people are good. And lots of good people working together are even better,” adds Thurston.
And, she says, it’s not just about the tangible goods.
“It’s the unexpected kindness that makes the biggest difference to the people we help,” she adds.
“Knowing that there are complete strangers out there who care about them and who want to help. That’s what helps to change lives.”
The first person to benefit from 52 Lives’ collective kindness was 9-year-old Claire Ollier from Queensland, Australia.
“Claire had brain cancer and had been through a lot of treatment. We wanted to give her something special to look forward to,” says Thurston.
“So, with the help of many companies, we arranged for her to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the theatre, gave her a beautiful party dress to wear and also sent her for a VIP Day at a theme park.”
Sadly, Claire passed away a few months later. But thanks to the kindness of 52 Lives, her final memories were fond ones.
Now the organisation is helping Claire’s big brother after an extremely tough year.
Nicola Shallom’s nine-year-old daughter Evie is also one of those who has benefited from 52 Lives’ acts of kindness.
Evie was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma cancer in March 2014. Shortly after diagnosis, one of her teachers contacted 52 Lives to see if they’d help fund a new bedroom for Evie to give her a much-needed boost.
“It was just what she needed, something nice and fun to focus on,” says Evie’s mum, Nicola. “She was incredibly excited when we told her.”
Evie, who has been “incredibly brave throughout her treatment” had a decorator offer to paint her room baby blue with a hand-painted mural of a tree on one of the walls. Meanwhile, others donated IKEA vouchers to the family.
Evie’s room has since been completed and, her mum says, she enjoys proudly showing it to all of her friends.
“Not only did 52 Lives give Evie a new room, but they also gave her hours of fun planning, shopping and adding finishing touches, which has helped her through her treatment,” says Shallom.
“Every time I walk into her room it touches my heart that so many people have come together to help Evie, especially people who don’t know us.
“I am completely overwhelmed by it.”
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And with such personal and emotional stories, we imagine it can be hard for Thurston not to become sucked into people’s lives and struggles.
“I cry every week without fail,” she reveals. “People share some of the most difficult and personal details of their lives. And some of the stories are just heartbreaking.
One letter which the mum-of-two received was from a lady they’d previously helped who had cancer.
“It was a very short and simple one,” says Thurston. “But it still brings me to tears when I read it.”
The woman had delivered some kindness of her own to help a family in need, by sending an Au$200 gift card in the post.
Thurston adds that it was wrapped in a note that said: “We are all in this world together and need to support each other. Let them know they are not alone.”
Of course, the initiative has received nothing but positive praise since its formation in November 2013 and, in that time, has received its fair share of requests too, with anything from dentures to a new car being supplied by supporters to those in need.
And, Thurston explains, it means the world to her that these supporters trust her judgement.
“They place an enormous amount of faith in me, they trust my judgement on who I choose to help and then offer help to someone they’ve never even met. I’m constantly overwhelmed by how much faith they have and how much kindness they show.”
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So why do people choose to help others they’ve never met, and potentially know nothing about?
For many different reasons, says Thurston. “But I think mostly because people like to give direct help. It’s empowering and it’s heartwarming to see the benefit of your kind act.
“Each week, different stories will appeal to different people. So over time there will be a story that prompts someone to want to help.”
But, despite all of this, the 35-year-old says that it hasn’t restored her faith in humanity. The reason? Because she’s always believed that people are “inherently good” and that we all want to help each other.
“The most important thing we do is spread kindness. Unexpected kindness is a powerful thing and can change someone’s whole outlook on life.”
Amen to that.