He took a step back and looked at the sign, smiling. It was the first time he had done something like that at his shop. He knew the sign would get a reaction from the community, but couldn’t tell whether it would be positive or negative. He also knew it might affect the profitability of his business. But in his heart, he was convinced it was the right thing to do. That said, he had no idea an unassuming sign on a gas station door would become national news.
It was definitely a new experience for a small-town shop owner. But Frank Hemani has seen many things throughout his life, and he takes it all in stride. He has always known the meaning of hard work, and as the proud owner of several gas stations, it has definitely paid off. But that doesn’t mean the road has been easy -- quite the opposite, in fact. Especially living in a place like Texas, and particularly for someone like him.
Frank has always lived in the northeastern part of Texas, not far from Dallas. He hasn’t always felt like he belonged, though. With his dark hair and tan skin, you would be forgiven for thinking he’s Latino -- after all, almost 40% of the population in Texas is of Hispanic descent. But in reality, Frank - whose birth name is actually Faisal - is a Muslim of Middle Eastern descent. And that has sometimes made life hard for him.
Throughout his life, Frank has lived in Greenville, Arlington, and Emory. In all of those places, the Asian population hovers around three percent. It’s easy to see how that has made Frank feel like an outsider. But he has always known the value of hard work, and even though at times he struggled and went hungry, he has been able to succeed. He now owns several gas stations in the Emory area. That said, what goes on around him still affects him.
Los Angeles Times
Frank has seen many things change throughout the years, even if it hasn’t always been apparent. It all came into stark relief, though, after the recession in 2008. Many people lost everything, and the wealth inequalities that have been building up for decades became painfully evident. Frank was lucky to stay afloat and was able to breathe easy once the economy stabilized. But he can see how not everybody had the chance to bounce back.
Los Angeles Times
A 2016 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities ranked the income inequality of every state in America. Texas came in at number 10, with the richest five percent of households having average incomes 15 times as large as the bottom 20 percent. Though this all might just be statistics to us, Frank has seen the effects with his own eyes and in his own community -- and it has changed the way he does business.
As a gas station owner, Frank has seen all kinds of people come through his shop, and he tries to treat everyone with politeness and respect. But, as in every service job, there are always people who make your work a little harder -- from homeless people begging customers for change to recent immigrants who can’t speak English. Frank knew this couldn’t stand, but he didn’t know what to do about it.
One day, Frank saw a video that gave him an idea. He printed a message on a sheet of paper and taped it to a refrigerator door at his Star Mart convenience store. He didn’t think much of it and even forgot about it after a few days. But then one of his customers took a picture and posted it on social media. All of a sudden, Frank was getting calls from local news stations asking him to explain the sign.
“If you don't have money or a job, you can have a sandwich and a bottle of water for free," reads the sign on the refrigerator door. It was a simple message, but it drew the praise and curiosity of many. For Frank himself, it’s not a big deal. 'It's just a couple of bucks, but somebody will not go to sleep hungry,” he said while being interviewed by KLTV. But in truth, it’s more than just a sign -- it’s a mission.
Frank got the idea of the sign after watching a video of someone doing something similar. It made him think of all the times he struggled and how much he would have appreciated a gesture like that. “It’s really nice to help the community out because there’s sometimes that maybe I went hungry,” he explained. “If they are hungry enough, I will feed them. If they have children, I’ll definitely give them something to eat.” And his staff are all fully on board with the idea.
"We all go through hard times from time to time, so it's nice to have something good," said Andrea Wissman, one of Frank’s employees. “We have ham and cheese sandwiches and sometimes he throws some of our breakfast tacos in here, something a little different, they can have a choice." In Frank’s view, no person should have to go hungry or live in poverty -- especially children.
“I don’t think the kids in this country or anywhere in the world should have to wait for Christmas to get good stuff,” Frank said. “I think they should get it whenever they deserve.” Perhaps he’s not going to solve world famine, but by giving out five or six sandwiches a week, he’s definitely making a difference. And he hopes others will learn from his example.
Though the sign is currently up at only one of the convenience stores Frank owns, he plans to implement the policy at all of them. And he wants others to follow his lead. "I can do more positive stories out there,” he said. “Because of me, if more and more people start doing it, I think it'll be one good thing for the whole world." And we think he might be on to something...
A library in Missouri recently installed something called the “Kindness Kupboard.” It is an old newspaper dispenser filled with school supplies, personal care items, and nonperishable food. The items are all available for free for anybody who needs them, and the Kupboard will remain stocked through donations from businesses, organizations, and community members. And it’s not just people in the U.S. who are doing small acts of kindness like this.
Matt Olson/Saskatoon Starphoenix
Students at the University of Saskatchewan College of Dentistry in Saskatoon, Canada, decided to set up a free dental clinic on campus for people with low resources. The clinic will be fully run by students, with seniors providing treatment and lower-classmen in support roles. “We want to help out those patients specifically, those that really avoid the dentist because they can’t afford it, but desperately need dental care,” said one of the organizers, Kristen Kezar.
What small act of kindness have you done today?