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I assume that he's homeless. His clothes are the same every day - baggy, dirty and hanging on his thin frame. He appears to be oblivious to the hustle and bustle going on around him - buses screeching to a stop to let out passengers, honking taxi horns and, of course, people rushing past, focused on getting their coffee and getting to work. He just stares into the window.

But even in New York, a city with an undeserved reputation for being impersonal and uncaring, I see people show concern for this man every day. Without fail, someone will go into the coffee shop, buy an extra scone or sweet roll and hand it to him as they walk out. He never says thanks, simply takes the bag, stares at it for a while and then will break off big chunks of the pastry and stuffs them in his mouth.

I've also noticed that he has a Good Samaritan almost every day. A couple of times, I've walked by later then normal and I've seen someone handing him a bag - which leads me to assume that maybe a couple of people a day will treat him. Good for them and him!

None of these people give him food with any fanfare. They gently hand it to him, some without saying anything, others with a brief greeting. What they do is extend a small act of kindness.

I told someone this story and he said, "Well, that's nice, but wouldn't it be better if they arranged to get him help of some kind instead of letting him stand there?" Sure it would, and maybe some have tried, but my point is that people are reaching out in some small way to this man. He needs their help; they see that and respond.

Our definition of being charitable too often focuses on the big gifts donated by generous philanthropists, or maybe soup kitchens set up by non-profit groups or churches. There are lots of these wonderful and generous people doing great things and they deserve recognition. Hopefully, the attention they get will inspire more people to be generous!

However, the little acts of charity, the unseen ones, also help to make this a better world. Most of us can't make big donations, but we can give a dollar to a person on the street, buy a roll for the man outside the bakery or drop money in the church poor box. These small gifts nurture the giving spirit in our world and show that we care about people as individuals.

The gift also doesn't have to be about money, either. We can give gifts of kindness that might, in turn, make someone's day a little brighter. Greeting a bus driver or security guard with "Have a good day!" seems like a small thing, but it means we went out of our way to think about someone else.

We all have chances each day to make this world a better place. Our challenge is simple - let's not miss an opportunity when we find it.

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Dennis Heaney is president of The Christophers

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For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, "Three Minutes to Make a Difference," write: The Christophers, 12 East 48th St., New York, N.Y. 10017; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org.

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