On the morning of Tuesday, April 18th, Jennifer Nelson leafed through her copy of The New York Times like she would any other day. As the eight-year manager of Brooklyn bistro, Buttermilk Channel, Nelson always made it her business to read the "Food" section of every Times she got — it is literally her business, after all.
But this morning, one particular story stood out to Nelson. It was titled "The Day in the Life of a Food Vendor," written by Tejal Rao, and it appropriately followed one New York City food vendor through a typical day in his life.
The food vendor in question? Kabir Ahmed, a 46-year-old immigrant who came from Bangladesh 23 years ago. Ahmed now runs a halal food cart near the World Trade Center, mainly selling chicken and rice-based dishes.
The photo above was taken by Rao and posted on Twitter. It shows Mr. Ahmed proudly holding the Times article — the article that gave a very real look into his life, and by doing so, gave us a feel for how the near 10,000 food vendors in NYC live day-to-day.
It was that deeply personal insight that stuck with Jennifer Nelson.
More than anything, Nelson was struck by a brief conversation that Ahmed had with his wife, included towards the end of the Times piece.
"His [Kabir's] wife mentioned that they should go on a Caribbean cruise with their six kids this summer, basically saying how nice it would be to take a real vacation," Nelson recalls. "But Kabir told her that they couldn't afford it. That really struck a chord with me. I just thought, 'It would be so nice if we could make that happen for this family.'"
Like so many of us do when we read a story that touches us, Nelson decided to share the piece on Facebook. She included with the post her wish that she could somehow raise the money for this family vacation.
Within hours, Nelson's Facebook friends had rallied around the idea. She remembers the post getting flooded with comments, all encouraging her to take action.
"Friends began commenting that they'd contribute if I decided to raise the money, and I started to realize that I could do this," Nelson said. "I mean, how many crazy ideas do you push aside in a day? But I decided to just go for this one."
Nelson made the campaign, shared it all over social media, and went to bed, hoping that within a week or so they could raise a couple thousand for the Ahmed family. When Nelson checked the campaign the next morning, she was baffled to see $2,300 had already been raised.
By the end of the day (Nelson remembers they were preparing for the dinner rush when she received the notification) she saw the campaign had earned over $3,000 in less than 48 hours. Now, a little over a week after its inception, the campaign has raised over $6,000 for Kabir Ahmed and his family.
And the good deeds just keep on flooding in.
A friend of Nelson's who formerly worked at Royal Caribbean cruise lines offered to personally book the family an amazing vacation package. Some of Nelson's friends even offered to man the food stand during the cruise, an issue which was making it difficult for Ahmed to get away.
After speaking to both Ahmed and Rao, Nelson has confirmed that the family will be using the money to take the Caribbean cruise they've always wanted. She is unsure, however, when they'll take the long-awaited vacation.
But at the heart of the story, it doesn't matter when the Ahmed family is going on vacation or if Nelson knows about it. She puts it best herself:
"I don't think this story is about me or about Mr. Ahmed," She said. "It's about hundreds of strangers on the internet, many of whom have never met Kabir, deciding to do something totally random and kind. I'm not sure if I'm more touched by the people in my life who have supported the campaign, or those total strangers who decided to do something good."
It's stories like these, ones that show our innate kindness and generosity, that give a glimmer of hope to what would otherwise be a newsfeed of seemingly endless bad news. And no matter who's to thank, we're grateful for that.