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3:57 pm
Tue April 16, 2013

The Kindness Of Strangers After The Tragedy In Boston

Originally published on Wed April 17, 2013 12:07 pm

In the hours after two explosions rocked the finish line at the Boston Marathon, social media was alight with offers of assistance — from restaurants inviting guests to pay what they could, to Bostonians offering couches and inflatable mattresses to anyone who needed a place to stay.

NPR's Celeste Headlee talks with three Bostonians who offered help to strangers after the crisis.


Interview Highlights

Jim Hoben, owner, El Pelon Taqueria in Boston, offered pay-what-you-can service at his restaurant.

Hoben: "We offered a place for people to come and sit and just kind of regroup a little bit. ... We had people come in, you know, just asking if they can charge their phone or to use the bathroom or for something cold to drink ... something to eat while they try to connect with the people that they were with. ...

"I think my staff deserves a lot of credit, too. ... I let anybody who wanted to go home, go home ... and not only did everybody stay, people who weren't working came in and helped, too. ... And there was my 11-year-old daughter all day, all week because she's on school vacation. And, you know, her first inclination was to write little notes on bags to tell people everything is going to be OK. So I think that this motivated us to just continue on and do what we could and not think about the big picture."

Tara Lenaghan, general manager of the Pooch Hotel in Newton, Mass., offered to keep pets for free.

Lenaghan: "In this time of just sadness and tragedy, we really were so glad to be able to do something. And we never imagined how many people we'd reach by it, but it seems like we've reached quite a few. ...

"It was a different variety of people. It wasn't necessarily just first-responders. It was people that were flying into Boston, but because the flights had been delayed, they were stuck and couldn't get here until really late last night. ... For example, one of our regular daycare dogs' pet parent was stuck at work. She was in lockdown until just about an hour ago. ... It's one less thing that these poor people had to worry about, you know? The first-responders, the people who are really, you know, stuck and just can't get home because of ... this terrible event. ...

"I think every single person in Boston, whether you are running, you knew somebody running, you were in the area, we were all touched by it. And I feel so proud that I could offer some small portion of help to these people who just, you know, everybody was just sad and scared. And it's great to see a city like ours just come together. And it's great to see people across the nation not just recognizing that, but also joining us in solidarity. It's amazing."

Eric Hellweg, digital director of the Harvard Business Review, is one of thousands in Boston offering his home to stranded marathon participants and attendees. He hadn't had any takers at the time of the interview.

Hellweg: "I was at home in the living room with my wife and saw ... this Google doc for people to offer up rooms and we have a spare bedroom. And I just said, 'Hey, you want to do this?' And she said, 'Of course.' ... That was the extent of our thought process there.

"I would do it again and it was great because I'd check the list an hour or so later and it looked like there were thousands of people who had offered up the rooms, which was just really — just so great to see. ... I hope I never have a chance to do something like that again. But I really don't think I would hesitate to do so."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee.

We're getting a few new details as the investigation continues into what happened in Boston. Officials now say the bomb was a pressure cooker design with nails and ball bearings inside, and we mentioned at the start of the hour that three people died yesterday in those explosions, more than 175 were injured. Today, the father of the eight-year-old boy who died released a statement. Though Richard thanked family, friends and strangers for their support after young Martin's death, he said his wife and six-year-old daughter were also seriously injured, and he asked for people's prayers.

You can stay with NPR News and later today, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED for details about Boston and much, much more, of course.

Images documenting the aftermath of the explosions at the Boston Marathon have circulated around the Internet and many media outlets globally. Among those photos were images of people helping one another: first responder assisting a fallen runner, one woman comforting another with a hug. Though social media, businesses and individuals offered assistance - from restaurants inviting runners and locals to pay only what they could to Bostonians offering couches and inflatable mattresses to anyone who needed a place to stay. President Obama referred to this today as acts of kindness.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The American people refuse to be terrorized because what the world saw yesterday in the aftermath of the explosions were stories of heroism and kindness and generosity and love.

HEADLEE: If you were in the Boston area, tell us what acts of kindness are you seeing today, or did you see yesterday. 800-989-8255. The email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation from our website, also. Go to npr.org and then click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now, Jim Hoben, owner of El Pelon Taqueria in Boston, Massachusetts. Yesterday, Jim, I understand you offered one of the pay-what-you-can deals for people who may have been separated from their wallets or their bags after the explosion. Jim joins us from his office in Boston. Jim, welcome.

JIM HOBEN: Thank you.

HEADLEE: So you announced the pay-what-you-can deal over Twitter. What response did you get?

HOBEN: Well, we got a lot of people come in looking to charge cell phones and, you know, try and connect with people that they're with, their friends and love ones. You know, we offered a place for people to come and sit and just kind of regroup a little bit.

HEADLEE: And they came in? I mean, did you get a lot of people coming in either charging their phones or eating?

HOBEN: A little bit of both. I think people - we had people come in, you know, just asking if they can charge their phone or to use the bathroom or to, you know, something cold to drink, you know, something to eat while they try to connect with the people that they were with.

HEADLEE: And when you made this announcement over Twitter, I wonder was there a calculation going in your head that I'll stop doing this once I reached this dollar amount?

HOBEN: No. I think that we just, you know, we really just paying back debt to the city for - when we had a fire a couple of years ago, people rallied around us and encourage us while we rebuilt. And it just felt, you know, a natural thing to do just to - whatever we could and whatever people needed.

HEADLEE: And what did you think of other such acts? I mean, when you saw all these reports that people offering their homes, of the ways in which Bostonians and other - not just Bostonians, but people from all over the world reached out to others, strangers, what did you think?

HOBEN: It's - it was such a huge outpouring. You know, we're very overwhelmed yesterday. Yesterday, were just really about just being able to serve people and be open. And, you know, I think my staff deserves a lot of credit, too, just, you know, I let anybody who wanted to go home, go home that day if they wanted. And not only did everybody stay, people who weren't working came in and helped too. And, you know, that really - and there was my 11-year-old daughter all day, all week because she's on school vacation. And, you know, her first inclination was to, you know, write little notes on bags to tell people everything is going to be OK. So I think that this motivated us to just continue on and do what we could and not think about the big picture.

HEADLEE: That's Jim Hoben, owner of El Pelon Taqueria in Boston, Massachusetts, joined us by phone from his office there. Jim, thank you so much for your time.

HOBEN: Thank you.

HEADLEE: Now, we go to Tara Lenaghan, manager of the Pooch Hotel in Newton, Massachusetts. They offered to keep the pets of first responders who had to work overnight in response to the explosions. And she joins us from her office there. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION, Tara.

TARA LENAGHAN: Hi. Thank you so much for having me on today.

HEADLEE: It's our pleasure. Thank you for joining us. How did you make this announcement? How did you let people know that they could leave their pets there for free?

LENAGHAN: Well, you know, honestly, the most powerful way to put a message out there is social media at this point. And I put it onto our Facebook site yesterday afternoon. I think, you know, we were all looking for something that we could do. And, you know, in this time of just, you know, sadness and tragedy, we really were so glad to be able to do something. And we never imagined how many people we've reach by it, but it seems like we've reached quite a few so.

HEADLEE: And what kind of response did you get? I assume there was a good number of people that took advantage of having their pets there.

LENAGHAN: There were. We definitely had, you know, it was a different variety of people. It wasn't necessarily just first responders. It was people that were flying into Boston, but because the flights had been delayed, they were stuck and couldn't get here until really late last night. Or, you know, for example, one of our regular daycare dogs - pet parent was stuck at work. She was in lockdown until just about an hour ago.

HEADLEE: Oh, wow.

LENAGHAN: And it's, you know, it's one less thing that these poor people had to worry about, you know? The first responders, the people who are really, you know, stuck and just can't get home because of what - this terrible event. So it was, you know, it was taken out by - for a few clients of ours. It was nice. And we saw one or two today as well, so.

HEADLEE: Tara, I want to read you an email that we got from John in New Orleans. This is what John says: Yesterday, was in town for the Boston Marathon. I want to say the hospitality of the people of Boston is incredible. Coming from the South, we hear about the abrasiveness of people in that area. However, as a Southerner, I can tell you I found nothing but warmth and hospitality. A neighbor friend of mine I took - I'll send because my friend had to take some of our other friends in as well. Everyone here is incredibly nice. What did you think about the way that your city responded?

LENAGHAN: You know, Boston is a tough city. We stand firm and we stand together. You know, whether a tragedy or excitement, we all feel the same thing, and we all just truly want to help the person next to us. I think every single person in Boston, whether you are running, you knew somebody running, you were in the area, we were all touched by it. And I feel so proud that I could offer some small portion of help to these people who just, you know, everybody was just sad and scared. And it's great to see a city like ours just come together, and it's great to see people across the nation not just recognizing that but also joining us in solidarity. It's amazing.

HEADLEE: Before I let you go - stay with me, Tara - we're going to take a call here from Dan in Boston. Dan, we're talking about the acts of kindness that people witnessed yesterday and today. What have you seen?

DAN: Hi. Thank you for taking the call. I appreciate it. And I certainly would like to thank everyone that you've been speaking with who has helped other people in our city here. And I just want to echo what they said. You know, this is a strong city, and I think that we've seen a lot of selflessness.

What I wanted to share was a story about the original reason that we celebrate Patriots' Day here in Massachusetts. I'm from a town called Acton, and it was a Minutemen from our town that actually fired the very first shots in the Revolutionary War all those years ago. And the reason that they were the first is because just before the battle in Concord at the Old North Bridge, the leader of our Minutemen said, I haven't a man who was afraid to go. And he volunteered his troops to lead the charge when another regiment didn't want to. And that's the story that we all hear as schoolchildren growing up in Acton.

And when I saw those first responders, those volunteers, just the ordinary people who rushed towards the explosions to help those folks out, I was reminded of that spirit of selflessness, of those people who died for our liberty a very long time ago. We often remember them in this region, and that's why we celebrate Patriots' Day. And I thought it was poignant that we saw that same spirit now hundreds of years later.

HEADLEE: That's Dan calling from Boston. Dan, thank you so much. And we also have a call here from Shannon actually in Norman, Oklahoma; if I could get the thing to work. There we go. Shannon, what acts of kindness have you seen? You're not in Boston, though. You're in Oklahoma, right?

SHANNON: That's right. Thanks for taking my call. What I have seen even from this far away is the Reddit community actually responding to the tragedy in Boston. People are posting things like do you need a place to stay? You know, contact me at whatever number or email or something. And, you know, you can find a place to stay if you need it within about 20 minutes if you just look on Reddit. There's also a thing that's going on called random acts of pizza. People that don't live anywhere near Boston are calling pizza delivery places within that city and having them delivered to places that need food in order to help out the victims and the people close this tragedy.

HEADLEE: Which I saw myself and people can find that through Reddit or many other places online. Shannon, thank you so much. So, Tara, I wonder - before I let you go, let me ask you. Did all of this activity in terms of generosity of spirit, do you think it changed how people cope - are coping with what happened yesterday?

LENAGHAN: Well, I think, you know, and I said this a lot to people today as I ask. You know, here, we're so close to the city and we heard sirens and sirens just going for hours, you know? The way that people responded, it's not in fear. It's in sadness. Again, I say it. Boston is a strong city, and the people that are going to respond are not responding with anger. They're not looking to blame somebody. It's about how do we make this not happen again? How do we help the people who are hurt right now? And how do we help those poor people who really have no place to do?

You know, as a city, historically, we have always banded together. I'm proud to say that I'm from Boston. I'm proud to see the outpouring everywhere that you look. Everyone is just trying to make sense out of a difficult situation and working together and just giving anything and everything they can. I don't think it's different. I think it's a historical consistent thing that we do here. It's not today we decided we're going to help each other. It's just how can we help each other today?

HEADLEE: Tara Lenaghan, general manager of the Pooch Hotel, joined us from our office in Newton, Massachusetts. Thank you so much.

LENAGHAN: Thank you again for having me.

HEADLEE: We are taking your stories as well about acts of kindness in Boston, I guess, around the country; got that one call from Oklahoma. 800-989-8255, especially if you're in Boston. What have you seen there in terms of acts of kindness among strangers, especially? Our email address is: talk@npr.org.

We have an email here from Florence, who lives at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Commonwealth and says: Our neighbors were handing out water, juice and plastic bags to keep the runners warm. The restaurant downstairs had employees doling out water and directions. Others were offering their cell phones to those who were without them or had run out of power. My heart ached so much, Florence says, as we were slowly finding out what it transpired. But seeing the sense of community in Boston really made me feel touched and proud.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. We are joined now by Eric Hellweg. He is the digital director of the Harvard Business Review. Am I pronouncing your name right, Eric?

ERIC HELLWEG: You got it. That's right.

HEADLEE: He's one of many Bostonians who opened up his home to stranded runners and marathon attendees after yesterday's explosions and he joins us from his office in Boston. Eric, welcome.

HELLWEG: Thank you. Thank you, Celeste.

HEADLEE: You know, what kind of hesitation did you have before you just opened up your house? You're one of many. Did you think for a moment, ooh, this could be dangerous?

HELLWEG: You know, I didn't. I really didn't think for a moment. I was at home in the living room with my wife and saw that Boston.com had launched this Google doc for people to offer up rooms and we have a spare bedroom. And I just said, hey, you want to do this? And she said, of course. And so we literally just - that was the extent of our thought process there. And I would do it again and it was great because I'd check the list an hour or so later and it looked like there were thousands of people who had offered up the rooms, which was just really - just so great to see.

HEADLEE: Well, tell me about that - what that was like to look at that list, to look at some of the things happening in Boston. What did that feel like for you, that sense that the community was reaching out?

HELLWEG: Yeah. Well, I mean, you know, when an event like this happens, you immediately think, OK, is everyone that I know and everyone in my family OK? And if that turns out to be true, if you're lucky enough that turns out to be true, then the next thing you think about is, well, how can I help? And, you know, to see that I was not the only person who was having those thoughts and just to - at a time when there's just so much sadness, when all of us are just - are grappling with this change in our remembrance of this formally this beautiful day of Patriot's Day and the marathon and this dark cloud that's kind of come over it, and to see that in amidst this strategy that there are people who are really just trying to do the right thing and help people out. It was just so reaffirming.

HEADLEE: Did you get any takers?

HELLWEG: You know, I did not. I did not get any takers from the list. I did get three emails from strangers who just wrote me a note to say thank you for putting your room there. But as of yet, the - no takers, although the offer still stands.

HEADLEE: We have an email here from Elizabeth. Elizabeth says: My mom is a secretary at Jackson-Hewitt, which is a tax place in Foley. She received a call from a gentleman customer this morning asking if he could donate $100. I guess that's Foley, Alabama. So a gentleman customer said he wondered if he could donate $100 of his refund to injured marathoners. I thought this was nice, Elizabeth said.

And we're taking your stories as well at 800-989-8255. Random acts of kindness. On the phone right now is Alisha in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Alisha, random acts of kindness, what have you seen?

ALISHA: Yeah. So I'm an 18-year-old high school student. I'm about to graduate in June.

HEADLEE: Congratulations.

ALISHA: And one of the students in my class was actually standing at the marathon - at the finish line watching her older sister run and she was injured by one of the explosions. She's been in the hospital since last night. Now, I'm not one of her closest friends, so I don't know most of the details. But I do know she's been injured in one of her legs, still in the hospital's day. And I just wanted to share this story about how the high school community has really come together for - and I know we'd do this for any member of the school who were injured. But it's just - you never think that tragedies like this will really touch you. And this is the closest I've eve gotten, and I just wanted to recognize the BB9 community for what they've done.

HEADLEE: Well, certainly our hopes and wishes are with that student and anyone else injured in the tragedy. Alisha, thank you so much.

ALISHA: Thank you.

HEADLEE: You know, I want go back to Eric Hellweg, who is digital director for the Harvard Business Review. Does is change it that nobody took you up on your offer? Does that change the act of offering for you?

HELLWEG: I don't think so. You know, I hope never have a chance to do something like that again. But I really don't think I would hesitate to do so. I think that, you know, just moments like this, you just really need to personally rise above, you know, the acts of charity you see around you. And I think we all - everyone around us is feeling that in ways large and small. You know, callers before have commented on people rushing in and helping at scene and the woman runs that dog hotel, everyone is really just trying to find ways to rise above.

HEADLEE: Eric Hellweg, digital director of the Harvard Business Review. Eric, one last question for you. Do you think people will stay away from the Boston marathon next year?

HELLWEG: Gosh, I hope not. You know, I don't what the city is going to plan. But, you know, I think need to come back stronger. I think we will come back stronger. I think that as the previous caller said, you know, this is a very tough, resilient city who's faced hardships in the past. This is a doozy. But I think we're going to come back stronger and I think you're going to see record turnout in the crowds. I think you're going to see a record turnout in the runners. I think we're going to really kind of stand up to this.

HEADLEE: Eric Hellweg joined us from his office in Boston. Thank you so much.

HELLWEG: You're very welcome. Thank you.

HEADLEE: I want to close with this email from Celine, who is a 58-year-old woman living in Brookline, who says: Her 36-year-old son has been a patient at the Jimmy Fund Clinic Children's Hospital, and now the Brigham's and Perrin Clinic. It's been a difficult winter, Celine says. Yesterday morning, I walked down Beacon in Washington Square as the wheelchair athletes were passing by. I felt moved and inspired by the courage of these athletes to keep going. The Boston marathon is about sport, support and courage. This was coward's act yesterday, but I will still hold on to the morning's inspiration.

Thanks to everyone who called in with their stories from Boston. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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