Cake mix, Crisco, and a couple of packages of frosting are not the typical targets of a shoplifter.
A store in Portsmouth, N.H., called the police to investigate a theft during Thanksgiving week. The police traced the shoplifting to a woman's home in the area and discovered that she was a mother who had stolen a cake mix and frosting to bake a birthday cake for her child. The officer decided not to arrest her but instead returned to the store and paid for the cake ingredients, Elizabeth Dinan reported for the Portsmouth Herald.
"I didn't do it for the attention," Officer Michael Kotsonis told the Portsmouth Herald. "What you do when no one is looking, that's the character of someone."
He said he wasn't approving the theft, but he did not want the child's birthday ruined by a mother's mistake.
"With all of these stories about bad cops, I thought y'all would love to hear this one," a store worker who witnessed the incident told the Portsmouth Herald. "I'm hoping that he can get some sort of recognition."
The officer had hoped the act would stay anonymous, and without a phone call from the store to the Portsmouth Herald, even his direct supervisor would not have known.
The Portsmouth New Hampshire Police Department applauded the officer's independent action in a Facebook post, and Acting Deputy Police Chief Frank Warchol said the officer had quietly demonstrated the department's community values.
"I know he doesn't want the attention," Mr. Warchol told the Portsmouth Herald. "Mike's compassion took over."
Those who reach out to others with kindness, whether recognized or anonymous, are often benefited themselves, says Mike Ferry, a middle school teacher and author of a book about teaching children to develop understanding through kindness.
"When we practice kindness it makes us happier, and it allows us to operate with purpose," Mr. Ferry says in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor.
Those who practice giving for religious or other moral reasons also benefit from feeling that they are living with purpose, Ferry says.
While varying in type and method, giving is such a part of the American tradition that the National Museum of American History is preparing an exhibit on the subject, and the Smithsonian Institute launched an initiative called "Giving in America" on Giving Tuesday.
Individual giving, sometimes on the scale of Kotsonis's birthday gift to a child in New Hampshire or larger, is a big part of that. Individuals contributed 72 percent of America's total charitable giving in 2014 from a total of $358.38 billion, according to Giving USA Foundation, a Chicago-area nonprofit that researches philanthropic trends. Overall, Americans gave away more money to charitable causes in 2014 than in the last 60 years since the group began collecting data.
Some Americans pursued ways to give, others, such as a New Hampshire police officer, just took the opportunity when it arose.
"We don't do stuff to brag about it. I don't need an article to know what's right and wrong," Kotsonis told the Portsmouth Herald. "If you can help someone out, you do."