By Chanda Temple
“Clink! Clink! Clink” go the quarters as Sherman Collins Jr. drops them into an expired parking meter next to a stranger’s car.
“That should help somebody,” he says as he buys $2 worth of time and moves to the next meter in downtown Birmingham.
His actions today come with a special meaning. He’s doing them in honor of his late wife, Katrina Bethune Collins, who was always helping strangers in the smallest of ways.
“She wanted to bless people,” Collins says. “She’d buy people lunch. Feed expired meters. It didn’t have to be someone’s birthday. She would buy flowers and take them to (people’s) grandmothers.”
Mrs. Collins, a mother of three, a paralegal and Girl Scout troop leader, died on May 29, 2014 after a brief illness. In March 2015, she would have been 42. In her memory, Collins has been challenging friends, relatives and even strangers to do 42 acts of kindness.
“I can’t have her back but I want everyone to know how special she was. Doing things for other people is what adds something special to your life,” Collins says. “It is not about personal glory but doing things that need to be done.”
He’s donated his personal money to help causes or students at the schools in his district. The latest recipient will be funding to assist Huffman Academy with its Fun Day.
Many have welcomed Collins’ challenge, including the Birmingham School Board, of which he’s a board member.
“Just recently, I was in line at Starbucks and I decided to pay it forward for the car that was behind me,” says board member Wardine Alexander.
Board member Cheri Gardner says she recently paid for a shopping cart full of groceries a woman said was going to a shelter. And board member April Williams says she donated to her daughter’s friend’s fundraising effort and gave a man a donation at a service station.
They plan to do more.
“I thought that was a beautiful way to honor his wife,” says Wiliams. “That’s my life goal – to be a philanthropist.”
Kimberly Stewart, a Hemphill Elementary School fourth grade teacher and Mrs. Collins’ best friend, says she and teachers encouraged students to create cards for their parents and nursing home patients. One teacher sat overnight with an MS nursing home patient and other teachers collected shoes, clothes and jackets for students in need at their school.
“I think this is a fantastic effort,” Stewart says. “We need to do more in helping others.’
When Collins does his acts of kindness, he does them in a specially-made T-shirt with “42” in pink on the front for the age his wife would have been this year.
He’s wearing the shirt when he meets Robert Maddox, who’s just stepped out of City Hall to feed his sister’s meter. As soon as Collins steps in to pay the meter, Maddox tries to pay him back. Collins refuses to take his money.
Maddox stands in disbelief.
Says Maddox: “That’s very, very nice. We need more people like him.”
Two cars down, Collins hands Deahanna George $10 and tells her that lunch is on him. Her daughter, Aniyah Harris, walks over to Collins, throws her arms around him and gives him a big hug.
“That is beautiful. Thank you very much,” George says.
Collins later donates some of his wife’s clothes to the YWCA’s My Sister’s Closet. He leaves them with YWCA employee Ty Jackson, who tries to compose herself behind closed doors after Collins’ gesture. YWCA security officer Steve Craig learns what Collins has just done and rushes out the door to shake his hand. Craig fights back tears as he talks to Collins.
“Excuse me, on behalf of the Y, I’m really touched,” Craig says. “You are honoring the spirit of your wife and we need more of that.”
Over in Roebuck, Mrs. Collins’ mother, Mary Bethune, distributes flowers to strangers in the Walmart parking lot. She, too, receives hugs from strangers. One woman even asks her if she can call her from time to time to just talk because she’s lost a loved one.
“I think this is the most special thing that anybody could ever do,” Bethune says. “It just shows how much love he had for (my daughter) and how much he cherised her. This is the way they were through their marriage.”
Now a widower, Collins is raising the three children he and his wife shared. They are 15, 12 and 10.
He says his faith in God and his responsibility to his children are what get him up in the morning.
“I have to continue to show them that they have to continue to get up and move forward in life. If you don’t do that, everything that mom worked for and stood for, you wasted.”
So when will the 42 days end?
“Hopefully, it doesn’t end,” Collins says. “I really want this to be a movement in honor of her.”