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A ‘donut’ day to remember

Gratitude is typically what one feels in response to another person’s selfless act of kindness. Such acts can happen anytime and anyplace—even in the parking lot of a donut store.

“It was June 8,” remembers Babara K. Gotthelf. “A friend and I were attempting to fix a flat tire in a very hot Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot in Cherry Hill, N.J.” Gotthelf, a professor of professional practice of law and director of externship programs at Rutgers Law School–Camden, and her friend, who is also a lawyer, thought they had this covered.

We can figure this out; we’re both lawyers, right? we thought. No! We must have looked so helpless. I can’t tell you how many cars passed us in the drive–through and nobody stopped. It was a good half hour.”

Her friend’s car was at least 20 years old, the owner’s manual was poorly written, and the jack was rusty. “I don’t think she has ever used the jack, which made changing the tire a real project. We were failing miserably,” said Gotthelf.

“Then I kind of noticed this big, black SUV that went past and then it went past again. Then it came around a third time and then stopped. That’s when the window rolled down and a man and woman in Salvation Army uniforms offered to help. I felt so badly saying ‘yes!’ but I did.”

Dressed in a crisp, white, epauletted shirt and neatly pressed Army blue slacks, the Army officer got down on his hands and knees in the parking lot and wrestled with the rusted, 20–year–old jack.

“His wife, too, was helping out with antiseptic wipes and good cheer,” remembers Gotthelf. “They were amazing people. In the middle of a pandemic, in a hot parking lot at midday, they rolled up their sleeves to help two complete strangers.”

The officers had almost finished the job when the service person Gotthelf and her friend had called hours earlier finally showed up and took over. “By then, the man was literally bleeding—he’d cut his hand—and was soaked in perspiration,” she said.

“What if our world were filled with people like that couple? It would be quite a different place, I’d imagine,” said Gotthelf.

 

‘Thank you for your kindness’

Later, in a letter to Dawn Garlic, volunteer service manager at the Salvation Army’s Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Camden, N.J., Gotthelf wrote, “I would like to find a way to publicly thank those Salvationists for their Good Samaritan deed. I truly believe that small acts of kindness, like theirs, need to be broadcast to the world, both as a means of thanks and as an inspiration to others. Thank God for people like them, who inspire all of us to do, and be, our best.”

Well before Gotthelf had her impromptu encounter with the officers, she was already deeply impressed with The Salvation Army’s Camden Kroc Center. “Actually, when I first saw them in their uniforms, I thought they were from the Kroc Center. I said, ‘I know you guys!’”

“I started going to the Kroc Center in December because one of my students, who is a triathlete, told me that they had this amazing swimming pool, which they do,” Gotthelf said. “So, I was using the pool for a couple of months and I kept noticing the other stuff that goes on at the Kroc Center. I realized it’s a lot more than just a swimming pool.”

“Camden is such a hard–hit city. There is so much need. The first time I saw that Kroc Center, it was like an oasis,” Gotthelf remembers. “That facility is just beautiful. It’s hidden away in North Camden but boy, it’s really an astonishing place. I think that it’s got to be making a difference to a lot of people in Camden. It has to be. It’s built right next to a landfill, but the city is making a park out of it and it’s going to be beautiful.”

 

Inspired to volunteer

Gotthelf, who has spent many years on the Rutgers campus in Camden as a student and now as a professor, knows the area well. She was so inspired by what she discovered at the Kroc Center that she offered to become a volunteer. “I was interested in all of the work that they do with the people who live in Camden. So, I reached out to Dawn and asked, ‘Do you have volunteer opportunities to help students after school with homework or anything like that?’ She said, ‘yes.’ I filled out a volunteer form in February, but then the coronavirus hit, and everything stopped.

“I teach legal writing at the law school. This is my fifth year as a professor there. I also went to school there,” said Gotthelf. “I was also an undergraduate there. So, I’ve spent a good part of my life in Camden.”

The former litigation partner at McCarter & English, LLP, is admitted to practice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Gotthelf gave up her law practice when she started teaching. “I really enjoy doing that and so I thought I could do it as a volunteer at the Kroc Center as well. I think there is a need for it there.”

 

Gratitude is the best attitude

“My kids are grown now. Everybody’s fine in this COVID–19 environment. I’m grateful every day because both of my kids are in healthcare. My daughter is a physician’s assistant and my son is an EMS paramedic. So, they are out there; my son in particular.

By the way, those officers at the Dunkin Donuts store just happened to be Commissioners William A. and G. Lorraine Bamford, USA Eastern territorial leaders. Gotthelf said of them, “I feel when people do something like what the Bamfords did, I should stop and take note of it and be sure to let people know. We complain all the time, but how often do we stop and say, ‘Hey, somebody did something really nice for me today.’ So, I really appreciate it.”

by Warren L. Maye

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