It was on a tragic day that 6-year-old Brayden Smith of Bass Lake decided to give a small gift that ended up having a big reach.
It was Dec. 14 -- the same day 20 children his age were gunned down in a school in Connecticut, and another 23 young children were injured by a man wielding a knife in China -- that 6-year-old Smith bought one red candy cane for someone for $1 with money he had earned himself.
He earns his keep from helping his mother Carey with the recycling and his father Tom gather kindling for the fire. And he learns about how to balance that money from his parents, who have their son divide what he earns between three jars: One for spending, one for saving, and one for giving.
And on the afternoon of Dec. 14, Brayden was excited about the power of what was possible with his giving jar.
He eagerly set out on a quest in Oakhurst's CVS to find the perfect thick, red candy cane with his father, and then somewhat shyly approached cashier Lori George with his hopes for it.
"On the day that the tragedy happened in China with the stabbing, and the horrible gun shooting in the states, all the cashiers and myself were trying so hard to not let that affect our customer service, but we wanted to mope around and were trying so hard not to -- and then little Brayden comes to the line and he has his dollar bill and says, 'My mom wants me to do something good for someone else today, an act of kindness,'" George said. "And he said, 'I want to buy this candy cane, and will you please make sure that a little boy or a little girl or whoever wants it -- I want them to have it.' ... I was trying so hard not to bawl my eyes out."
She took the candy cane and promised she'd find someone for him. About a half hour later, a young boy about his age came through the line -- fixated on the candy cane -- and asked his mom if he could have it. George told him Brayden's story, and asked the mother if it would be OK if she gave the candy cane to her son.
With both of the ladies fighting back tears, Brayden's candy cane was handed over.
"I kind of feel this warm feeling inside me," Brayden said about how it feels to give. "When I give, I get really excited about who's going to get that candy cane."
Brayden likes the way giving feels so much, he recently asked his friends who will be attending his birthday party later this month to donate to Compassion International to help sponsor a struggling child in a foreign country instead of buying him a present.
Last Thursday, he also helped at the Manna House's annual Christmas Food Giveaway with his parents, and enjoyed assisting his dad carry loads of new toys to cars.
Brayden was taking his volunteer work so seriously that at one point, he came to mother with tears streaming down his face, riddled with guilt for how he was feeling -- being a 6-year-old in a room packed with $25,000 worth of new toys.
"He said, "I have the gimme's Mom, I'm sorry,'" Carey said.
"I think that some people ... they look like they need something more than me," Brayden said.
After Brayden gave his candy cane away, early the following week, cashier George witnessed someone in her line help the person in front of them pay for their groceries when they came up short. Inspired by their act of kindness, George shared Brayden's story with them. Another woman in line behind them overhead it and was so touched by it, she promptly handed over a 20% off coupon to the person behind her.
"I thought, 'If only every day was like this,'" George said. "And it reminded me, there is good and there's evil in this world, yes, but there's so many do good-doers. And so many people everyday, who think they are just doing a small gesture ... and they don't realize the ripple effect that it has. I would venture to say the positive things, those have the largest effect of all, because if a person has a bad day, they will be reminded of that act of kindness, of the story about an act of kindness. And that will help them maybe, make it till the end of the day."
"Even your thoughts have a powerful effect," George said. "Everything is connected. I don't mean to sound all voodoo or whatever, but everything does affect everything else."
"I think it's so easy in our culture to just be stagnant, to kind of let things happen to you instead of trying to make things happen that are for the better," Carey said. "You can basically change how a day goes, you can change how a day unfolds for people -- there's something that really is inspiring about that. A candy cane from a boy can change the history of that day. I don't know, it's pretty awesome ... It's not what you take from your world, but what you give that's important."
When Brayden was asked what he hopes people take away from hearing about what he did, he said, "I hope people can be very inspired by it and they would do the same thing."
With a smile, his father Tom looked affectionately at his son sitting on his lap, and added, "There should be a lot of candy canes around, huh kiddo?"
"It's really not about the candy cane," continued mother Carey, to help fully cement the message. "It's about doing something nice for someone else."