Group remembers lost KC woman with random acts of kindness

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If you happened to catch someone doing a random act of kindness this weekend, chances are it was because of the life of Jennifer Charlton.

Charlton was a Kansas City mother, wife, and friend. She was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2011, eventually succumbing to the disease in 2012.

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Jennifer Starr Charlton

She was a teacher at Pembroke Hill and Children's Garden Montessori School. She was treated at KU Cancer Center.

Her family and friends visited some of those places, and a few others, and spread joy in her honor.

There was no doubt as 12-year-old Quinlan started the day, he was missing his mom, but there's also no doubt she would be proud of him.

"Every year to honor her birthday, we give 43 acts of kindness, and here's a $5 gift card for you. So you can just buy whatever you want," Quinlan said as he handed a gift card to a total stranger. A small gesture, but it was kindly received.

"Thank you very much, man. I'm very sorry about your mother," the man said as he gave Quinlan a handshake.

This is the third year Jennifer's loved ones have scattered kindness in her honor, each one accompanied by a small card saying "Pay it forward" and letting the recipient know who that random act was for.

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"It doesn't have to be anything big. People have rented movies for people, we buy coffee gift certificates as we are right now at The Roasterie. And they just include these, and it's amazing to see how far they go," Jennifer's husband Phillip Charlton said. "We've seen cards show up in different states, and actually all the way in Australia, and we have some friends doing it in Mexico right now too."

After buying dozens of gift cards at local coffee shops, they headed to Pembroke Hill. Quinlan's second grade teacher Amy Lysne, who hugged him through his toughest year, wouldn't miss it.

"I watched it kind of start very small and it's amazing; it's grown into this big, beautiful thing to remember Jennifer by," Lysne said.

The group worked their way from classroom to classroom delivering flowers and treats.

"To see something so positive come out of something that was so painful is just inspiring," Phillip added.

And it's healing too.

"Every year when we do this, it makes it a little easier, a little better to accept the huge sadness that happiness has come from our grief," Jennifer's mother Linda Starr said.

At the KU Cancer Center, bags of change are taped to the vending machines, so patients have a free snack. Flowers are donated so children can plant gardens.

And as Jennifer's loved ones approach strangers, sometimes there are initial doubts.

"And they have no clue what we're about to do," Quinlan said. "And we just give them money or gift cards to places and they're just shocked with joy and happiness."

And it changes their day.

"It's lovely that they're doing that. Very nice idea," said one recipient with a smile.

"And it changes ours too. It lifts us right up," Linda said.

To learn more about the group and their efforts, visit the Jennifer's Angels website.