PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — An elderly man in Texas has been getting cards, children’s drawings and even gifts for birthdays, holidays and general well-wishes for no particular reason for the past year and a half thanks to crowdsourced kindness from Portland strangers.
It all started in 2019 when Ron Stenger, who lives in Abilene, Texas, was on the cusp of turning 80. Shell Stenger, Ron’s daughter who lives in Portland, wanted to do something to cheer up her dad, who had just lost his wife earlier in the year.
The Northeast Portland resident had seen other people ask their neighbors to send their relative birthday cards on the neighborhood-specific social media site NextDoor and decided to give it a shot.
“I thought maybe I might get like 10 people or something and I was going to be grateful for that. But no. I was blown away,” Shell said.
Over 80 cards or so were sent to Ron for his birthday in July 2019, Shell said.
Outside of cards, people were wanting to know more about Ron, personally, because they wanted to make it a personal thing, Shell said.
“There were people who had kids who wanted to draw him pictures. And some people even wanted to send him presents. I was like: Wow, ok. And I didn’t know any of these people at all from the NextDoor site. So I was amazed that so many would do that.”
The following year — 2020 — was a rough one for Ron, who had to not only deal with seeing fewer relatives in person due to the pandemic but was also diagnosed with cancer. So for Ron’s 81st birthday, in July 2020, Shell once again put out the call on NextDoor to send her father cards.
“Well I got 62 birthday cards last year,” Ron told KOIN 6 News. “Yeah I’m surprised. Didn’t expect that many. I’ll occasionally get one or two once in a while.”
Ron is cared for by one of his other daughters, Kimberly Knight, who also lives in Abilene. Luckily the two were able to cram in a lot of traveling in 2019 before the pandemic hit, to places like Ireland, London and Portland, in an effort from Kimberly to help keep her father’s mind busy after he lost his wife.
Now, Kimberly and Ron are in the same social orbit so she can take care of him in person without having to isolate her father because of COVID.
Kimberly explained that the cards just kept coming, with people sending more mail this past Thanksgiving and Christmas. After Shell made a NextDoor post in November simply thanking the Portland community for sending her father cards, even more requests to send Ron cards came in, Shell said. Ron still gets one-off cards now and then from Portlanders, without occasion and just to help keep his spirits up. He even received a card the day before being interviewed for this report.
“You got notes from children, pictures. You even got one little boy that had autism,” Kimberly said in a Zoom call, which she was facilitating for her father in his home in Texas. “And even though your hands are shaky, you wrote him a thank you card back. And his mother cried when she got that in the mail because it was so special to him to receive that thank you.”
Ron also received gifts, like a Christmas ornament with the letter “R” and a box of tea.
“Well thanks to all those people, Portland. I got all those birthday cards and gifts,” Ron said.
Kimberly said she appreciates people sending her dad cards because “he is the most humble person, humble honest person you probably will ever meet.”
“For those of us who see this everyday, to get something from a complete stranger, even though I wasn’t the recipient, warms my heart, keeps me going. So even though they didn’t send cards to me, me being the caregiver, it just generates me to want to do more and to keep going. So they’ve not only helped him, but they’ve helped me,” Kimberly said.
Ron worked as a plumber for decades to support his family. Before that, he served in the Coast Guard from 1958-65, despite never having learned to swim, even to this day. Shell and Kimberly also have another sister and a brother.