SANTA CRUZ -- Despite a trickle of rain falling on Pacific Avenue Thursday morning, Margie Kern-Marshall pushed her walker downtown with one goal in mind: hand out $83 in mark her 83rd birthday.
"I wanted to celebrate my birthday in some special way," said Kern-Marshall, who turned 83 Thursday. "I know it's not original, but I believe in random acts of kindness."
Kern-Marshall gave out 16 fives and three singles, as well as free hugs to strangers. From young women to a man in overalls, the Santa Cruz resident stopped passers-by on the sidewalk, warmly greeting them.
"The important thing is to surprise people suddenly when you approach them," Kern-Marshall said as she eyed unsuspecting people walking by with umbrellas. "I'm hoping they will see this as a random act of kindness and do the same thing."
Kern-Marshall was particularly struck by one stranger's story, who described how he had given a man $5 earlier that day when asked for a cigarette. The coincidence of the interaction made Kern-Marshall smile."Whatever goes around comes around," Kern-Marshall said. "The circle never ends."
Another recipient of Kern-Marshall's gift had just given $5 to a young violinist performing down the street.
"I love that," Kern-Marshall said. "See how random acts of kindness can multiply?"
Some people were so surprised, they didn't know how to react.
"One person was stoic and mystified," Kern-Marshall said. "He walked off in a daze."
Another woman didn't even want to take the money, opting instead to just listen to Kern-Marshall explain her birthday celebrations.
"I can't take money from you," the woman said to Kern-Marshall. "It's your birthday."
Kern-Marshall was accompanied by a small group of friends, including her daughter Sheryl Kern-Jones.
"My mother's an amazing person," said Kern-Jones, a local psychologist. "She's just always loved life. She's always been a community person."
Kern-Marshall grew up in Los Angeles and taught in Europe, Asia and Africa. She moved to Santa Cruz 30 years ago for career opportunities."I've had a fortunate life full of many wonderful things," she said.
And ultimately, Kern-Marshall wants to continue giving back. Despite her age and need for a walker, Kern-Marshall appeared full of energy, strolling ahead without an umbrella, looking for people to greet.
"She's just an inspiring person," Kern-Jones said of her mother. "She's always positive, even in the most challenging times."