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How one man spreads kindness, one garbage can at a time in Clovis neighborhood

The Fresno Bee - 11/25/2022

Each Monday for the past year, a 64-year-old Clovis man has gone house to house to put away his neighbors’ trash can bins.

It initially started as a good deed to service the homes on his street, but eventually it spread to the entire subdivision.

The good Samaritan, Michael Carter, covers about 13 miles to help as many as 430 homes within the neighborhood.

“I know it’s weird,” said Carter, whose weekly act of kindness usually takes five hours to complete. “Who wants to put away trash cans for half their day?

“But you know what’s motivated me? Mostly, depression. I’ve went through 20 years of depression and what got me through that was a lot of people showing me little acts of kindness. I want to do my part to spread a little kindness for others.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health’s most recent statistics, an estimated 21 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in 2020.

And with the holiday season upon us, additional cases of depression are expected to rise again.

Lessening tension in post-pandemic era

Carter’s good deed, though, is more than an attempt to fight depression.

Pulling garbage bins from the streets also has been a peace offering of sorts.

As well as a reminder to be kind to others.

From how people conducted themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic to their views on the 2020 U.S. presidential election and the ensuing Jan. 6 insurrection, Carter believes the issues created tension both near and far from his home.

“One thing I noticed from COVID was there was a lot of tension building up in the neighborhood,” Carter said. “Are you one of those who’s wearing a mask? Are you one of those who’s not wearing a mask? And if you were part of one group, it felt like you were an outcast by the other side. Same thing with the way people viewed politics. And it really bothered me.

“So I asked the Lord, ‘What can I do just to show people that somebody cares for them? For them all?’ Then one morning, I woke up to the noise of a garbage truck. And said, ‘OK, Lord. I guess this is how we’re going to do it — through trash cans.’

But as the old adage goes, no good deed goes unpunished.

Calling the police

What seemed like a good idea to Carter initially was perceived by some as a man with bad intentions.

And the first couple of times Carter went around the neighborhood and approached houses not on his street to return the bins, some people quickly became suspicious.

So he was followed.

By some in cars as they monitored his every move before he eventually was confronted.

“When I first started this, there was tension already in the neighborhood. So people see me walking around and doing what I’m doing, it just raised their alarm,” Carter said. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing but you’re scaring a lot of people.’”

At some point, someone called the cops.

And the Clovis Police came out to stop Carter during one of his early walks to find out what was all the commotion about.

“I explained to them what I was doing and why,” Carter said of his discussion with the officers. “I tell them how I’m just passing it forward, trying to help my neighbors. They seemed to be fine with the idea, and so I kept at it.”

Carter’s random act of kindness even drew some criticism online via the Nextdoor social media app.

“I read the comments and saw a lot of negativity,” Carter said. “I wasn’t discouraged, though. It was nice to also read neighbors and police advocating for me, and telling people I’m not out to harm them.”

Yet on one of Carter’s walks later around the subdivision, someone again called the police.

“Some people were still freaking out,” Carter said. “The cops came out again. But this time, they didn’t talk to me. They went to talk to the people who called the police and explained what I was doing and my intentions.

“It took some time, but it went from this really tense situation to now where I look forward to Mondays and seeing neighbors who I see now as family.”

Trying to remain anonymous

Carter’s continued act of kindness eventually led to confusion around the neighborhood.

Who was the person responsible for bringing in the garbage bins?

Carter had hoped to maintain anonymity, appreciating but certainly not seeking any thanks.

He even tried to keep his trash can bin service a secret from his wife, Doreen Cometa-Carter.

“I thought she’d be freaked out by the germs if she found out,” Carter said.

But between home surveillance cameras and community social media posting by people who’d talked with Carter during his trash can bin services, he was soon outed.

“Even my wife caught me,” Carter said with a laugh.

When Cometa-Carter saw her husband of 12 years bringing in another neighbor’s trash can bin, she had just one question.

“I asked him if I could join,” Cometa-Carter said. “I didn’t need an explanation. I know my husband’s heart. He does what he does out of his love for God.”

Carter said he also started receiving feedback from people in the neighborhood who had shared their story of curiosity and confusion of who was putting away their bins.

“They thought their immediate next-door neighbors were the ones putting them away so they started to do nice things for them,” Carter said. “Even just saying, ‘Hi,’ or smiling in their direction more often.

“That was probably the best feedback and feeling I got from all of this.”

Thanking thy neighbor

When Cometa-Carter joined her husband for the five-hour trek around the neighborhood, more and more neighbors started to approach Carter.

“Something about a woman’s presence,” Carter said, “breaks up some of the tension.”

Some wanted to simply express their appreciation for what the couple was doing.

Others thanked Carter and with some residents sharing how they physically struggle to put their own bins away every week.

A few offered Carter and his wife a box of fancy chocolates, as well as drinks and gift cards.

“This guy Michael is the nicest man,” neighbor Jackie Redmond said. “We were all wondering until about a month ago who was bringing our garbage cans off the streets.

“I saw him on Halloween and told him how amazing I thought he was for doing this act of kindness for others.”

Carter, who is retired after selling Bible story books by going door to door for 40 years, often asks those who approach him if he and his wife can pray for them.

“We are making a lot of friends who we feel like are family now,” said Carter, who has three children. “And these conversations we have, they usually started off as just ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ But the beautiful thing is over time, I got to have some deep conversations.”

Hoping to inspire others

Despite the positive feedback that’s continued to grow, Carter had hoped to stay anonymous.

“I didn’t want this to be about me,” Carter said. “I liked it when it was just about people being nice to others.”

But then Carter said he realized that talking publicly about his random good deed might inspire others elsewhere to perform similar acts of kindness.

He’s already gotten messages from random people from as far as Georgia after discovering his willingness to serve as the neighborhood’s garbage bin retriever.

And feedback has encouraged Carter and his wife to keep doing it.

“The reality is, I’m out here trying to just help people, but it feels like I’m getting more of the blessing from all of this,” Carter said. “It’s been beautiful. Our neighborhood doesn’t feel tense anymore. We made some good friends. And hopefully, this little act of kindness will help someone who’s fighting depression.

“Because I tell you, if we don’t learn how to love each other, we’re not going to make it,” Carter added. “And we got to get past the, ‘I’ll be nice to you if you’re nice to me first’ way of thinking.’

“We’ve got to initiate loving people again.”

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