SALT LAKE CITY — On a snowy spring morning armed with a dozen bags of food, water and blankets, Daniel Smith is on a mission.
One by one, he approaches individuals in downtown Salt Lake City who look like they're struggling to stay warm or are in need of a little help.
"(I'm) just trying to give back and make a difference," he replied when asked why he was out handing out care packages in the snow.
At his side is a man with a video camera capturing every tender moment, every exchange, every expression of thanks and every odd moment in between.
"I've been kind of fortunate my whole life," Smith said. "And it just kind of hit me one day that it's long past due that I stand up and do something."
Smith decided to devote four weeks to performing random acts of kindness. Each week he came up with a project and then set a $125 budget for it. He took a videographer along to create online videos of the projects to hopefully inspire others to give back as well.
Week 1: Helping the homeless
The project for week one was making and delivering a dozen care bags to the homeless.
"They helped me out with this blanket today," said one of the men who accepted a bag. "(It will) let me stay warm tonight when I sit on the side of the road, because I won't have anywhere to go in until 10."
Smith said he was overwhelmed by the gratitude that each person who received a bag expressed, and he was surprised to see how willing each person was to share their story with him.
"We're all the same. Some are just down on their luck more than others," he said.
And that's what makes Smith's random acts of kindness project so remarkable. Around the same time that he decided to do the project, he lost his job.
"I was really letting the depression get to me and I decided, you know what? I'm not gonna sink into this sad state and say ‘woe is me,'" he said. "I really wanted to figure out what to do with my time."
He decided to use his extra time to serve.
He had already saved the $500 for the projects and decided that despite his personal hardships, he would see it through.
Week 2: Free lunches at Great Steak
For week two of his month of service, Smith paid for nearly a dozen lunches at the Great Steak restaurant in Provo. He worked the drive-thru; as people pulled up to the window to pay, he told them their meal was paid for, and then relished their reactions.
"They were completely ecstatic," he said. "They were thrilled. And that just goes to show that it doesn't take a lot to really brighten somebody's day."
He never let them know that he was the one paying – just that their meal was free.
Week 3: Gift cards at Wal-Mart
The project had such an impact on Smith, that for week three, he decided to randomly approach people in a Wal-Mart parking lot and offer them gift cards that he paid for out of his own pocket.
"Oh my goodness, you're going to make me cry," said one woman who was approached by Smith on her way into the store.
"Thank you," she said with a hug. "That is so nice of you."
Others brushed him off and didn't even get him a chance to explain what he was doing.
One woman expressed skepticism, and then broke down in tears sharing how hard things had been for her lately and how much this $15 gift card meant.
"We're really busy in our hurried lives that we don't really stop to look around and think of the stories of these people that are all around you," Smith said. "Kindness is a universal language … and they tell you their story and they tell you their struggles and it's really amazing."
Another family graciously accepted a gift card as the father said, "I'm actually laid off right now, so this really helps."
They said Smith's random act of kindness made them think about how they could help others too. They didn't know that he, too, was laid off at the time.
"The impact that it has had on me and seeing the smiles on these people's faces and the astonishment that there is still good in the world is just amazing," Smith said. "And if I can continue doing that forever, I would love to."
Week 4: ???
He is still in the process of deciding what he'll do for week four. He said the greatest lesson he's learned is that it doesn't take a lot, or even money, to make someone smile.
"Kindness is and can be everywhere," he said. "We just have to stand up and do it."