EL PASO, Texas — The people of El Paso aren’t letting their community be defined by the horrific violence that took 22 lives and shook the city.
Instead, they’re doing what they can to spread a little love and kindness. And it turns out kindness is contagious.
It started with 11-year-old Ruben Martinez, who created the #ElPasoChallenge to help his community heal from the mass shooting. The sixth-grader challenged each person in El Paso to do 22 good deeds for others — one for each of the victims who died after a white supremacist opened fire August 3 inside a Walmart.
Residents of the city have taken Martinez’s call to heart.
They treated people to popcorn and a movie
Denise Contreras told CNN she took on the challenge to show her 7-year-old daughter and her 8-year-old cousin that “good will always overpower the bad.”
The two young girls were having a sleepover this weekend and had been feeling scared and anxious since learning about the shooting. To take their mind off the gunman, she channeled their energy into doing good deeds instead. As part of the deeds, they passed out packages of microwave popcorn that contain promo codes that can be redeemed for a movie rental at Redbox.
“Today we’re spreading sunshine for someone who no longer can,” one of the packages reads. “Enjoy a movie and popcorn on us!” At the bottom of the note is a message that reads: “In memory of 22 El Paso Angels.”
Contreras and the girls also made snack bags for police officers stationed outside the Walmart where the shooting occurred. They’ve handed out lollipops. They taped sticks of Extra gum onto index cards with the message, “Have an extra great day.”
Contreras said the girls are having so much fun doing nice things for others that they don’t want to stop. “They’re like, ‘Can we do this every day?'” Contreras said.
They gave water bottles to homeless people
El Paso has always been united as a community, Victoria Meza says. But in light of the tragedy, Meza wanted to spread love and kindness to remind others that good people are out there. So she took on the challenge with her niece and her friend.
They’ve bought water bottles to distribute to homeless people. They’ve made goodie bags filled with chips, pretzels and other snacks. At convenience stores and corner stores, they’ve left index cards with a few dollars attached so people could buy some soda or coffee. They’ve taken a platter of cookies to a local nursing home.
Each item they’ve handed out contained a note with the name of a person who died in the shooting.
Another reason Meza wanted to take on the challenge was to set an example for her 12-year-old niece. “I wanted to show her as well that no matter what age, what race, what gender you are, we can all spread kindness to one another,” Meza told CNN.
This school is collecting stuffed animals for kids
For its first school-wide act of kindness, Montwood Middle School is collecting donations of stuffed animals for local elementary school students.
Children from across schools in El Paso are still coping and trying to make sense of the tragedy that shook their community last weekend, Principal Melissa Martinez told CNN. Montwood students, faculty and staff want to make them feel a little better again. “We wanted to provide them with some comfort for any anxiety or questions they may be feeling about our city being safe,” she said.
Martinez said her students have been “phenomenal.” One sixth-grader brought in 15 stuffed animals to donate. Another pulled a teddy bear out of his backpack, and said he could bring six more the next day.
“Words can’t describe the experience that the city is going through, but I’m very proud of El Paso and the efforts that they’re taking to move forward with the El Paso Challenge,” Martinez said. “It really epitomizes what El Paso is about and why we’re a very special community.”