TEMPLE TERRACE — On an occasion when most people welcome the chance to be on the receiving end of celebrations and gift giving, Vaneesha Patel opted to observe her birthday by doing good deeds for others.
The University of South Florida senior marked her 22nd birthday on Nov. 22 by performing 22 acts of kindness throughout the Tampa Bay community.
She began just after sunrise by placing coins on the tops of random vending machines, leaving freshly cut flowers and cheerful sticky notes on the windshields of various vehicles throughout the campus, and personally delivering handmade get-well cards to youngsters in the pediatric unit of Florida Hospital – Tampa.
From there she headed south to Wimauma, where she donated trays of sandwiches to help feed the hungry at the Good Samaritan Mission.
All those thoughtful deeds occurred before noon. But by no means was her unique celebratory style of observing her birthday complete.
She rushed back to her residence to put the finishing touches on the pasta primavera, fruit salad and garlic bread she’d prepared in advance for the firefighters stationed at Fire Station No. 1 in Temple Terrace.
Then it was off to drop off the early afternoon meal at the Bullard Parkway site where, after Temple Terrace Assistant Fire Chief Ian Kemp gave thanks to Patel for her kindness and generosity, the dozen or so men wasted no time in serving themselves. Some even went back for seconds.
When asked why she selected the firefighters to bestow such kindness upon she replied, “They are our everyday heroes and they are constantly sacrificing their lives. What better people to do this for?”
Firefighter Robert Johnson expressed his gratefulness for Patel’s kind gesture.
“This was a very thoughtful tribute to us and the food was good,” he said as he finished off his last bite.
Patel, who is majoring in biological sciences and plans to attend medical school and perhaps go into psychiatry, said she was inspired to do the good deeds on her birthday by a video she’d seen a few months before about a gentleman doing just that.
“It sounds like a selfless act but it makes me feel good,” she said. “I’ve seen how other people in the world live and I think by making a small difference it could make a big difference in someone’s life.”
With several hours still left in the day, she had even more places to go and additional kind acts to perform.
“I’ll be giving out more flowers, including two roses, one for my grandmother and one for my grandpa.”
Patel, it seems, has a history of helping others. She volunteers at Florida Hospital and most every Friday night heads to Tampa’s inner city to feed the homeless with a group of fellow students as part of a grassroots effort titled Project Downtown.
A good friend of Patel’s, who preferred to go unnamed but assisted her in carrying containers of food up the stairs to the second-floor dining room of the fire house, said he was not at all surprised at how she chose to spend her birthday.
“She just likes to give and give and she doesn’t want anything for herself,” he said.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.