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Spreading Kindness: Random Acts of Kindness at the Wisconsin Union

As students, staff and faculty returned to campus in fall 2020, we, the Union team, noticed an unfamiliar quiet on campus and mourned opportunities to help make connections with the campus community. We committed ourselves to finding a way to combat disconnectedness and isolation and to inspire happiness and hope in the lives of UW-Madison students, staff and faculty through random acts of kindness at our buildings Union South and Memorial Union. 

A Union employee prepares a free meal pick-up station this past spring

“Everything was so quiet,” Wisconsin Union Deputy Director Susan Dibbell said. “We were looking for ways to connect with students, letting them know that we were thinking of them and that we were still here to serve them.”

Random Acts of Kindness started as a group idea, but the Union catering staff largely drove the effort. 

“They generated ideas as a staff, things like surprising the students stuck in quarantine or recognizing events like Earth Day and the 10th anniversary of Union South,” Dibbell said. “We all contributed ideas and a small team implemented them.”  

Free meals waiting to surprise students

Alumni’s donations made our Random Acts of Kindness possible. Their generous contributions helped bring smiles to thousands of students’ faces. 

The random acts came in many different forms of free items, such as coloring books and art supplies included in food to-go orders, cookies and beverages served to students studying at Union South and Memorial Union, and free meals. This past semester, our team aimed to offer at least one Random Act of Kindness each month. 

Random Acts of Kindness are more important now than ever, Dibbell said, because, “…we have all been isolated for over a year. Our social connections have diminished. We need human contact. The program was as important for our staff as it was for the students we served.” 

A closer look inside the free meal bags

Students appreciated these little moments of kindness that occurred in the midst of their simultaneous stress of studying for exams and living through a pandemic. The success of Random Acts of Kindness proves that one small act can make someone’s entire day. 

“Our staff loves doing the Random Acts of Kindness for that exact reason: physically distanced, safe contact with other people,” Dibbell said. “Students have been very appreciative. The acts are unexpected, which makes it all the more fun.”

While we don’t yet know what the future of Random Acts of Kindness will look like—“I can’t reveal our secrets!” Dibbell said—there is no doubt that no matter what happens next, we will continue to support students and work to bring smiles to their faces.

Author: Abby Synnes

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