Powering Kindness: What happens when you give out free chocolate on the streets of Dublin?



Over the last few days, I’ve been on the streets of Dublin, handing out free chocolate. What, I hear you cry, why would anyone give away chocolate? There must be some sort of a catch!

The word catch was one we heard throughout the stint, but catches there were none. It was all in aid of Electric Ireland’s Powering Kindness Week, which comes to its end today. Essentially, the energy provider is encouraging the citizens of Ireland to carry out a good deed, a random act of kindness, and to log it on the website or by text in aid of one of three charities; Breakthrough Cancer Research, Childline or Special Olympics Ireland.

Myself and my housemate Aisling took to the streets to drum up support for Breakthrough Cancer Research. Like most people, cancer has visited my family, with devastating results. My uncle Peter died in his forties from the disease, and I never got to meet him. In twenty-five years since his death, cancer research has come on in leaps and bounds, but there’s still more road to go. Understandably, it’s something I feel strongly about.

So what happens when you take to the streets of Dublin and offer strangers sweets?

A lot of people look at you with undisguised suspicion. You don’t live in a city for long without learning to block out the noise of various hawkers on the streets. People automatically assume that there is a catch, that this is a new technique that charity collectors are trying out. Still others look at you as if you are trying to poison them. It wasn’t until a young student at the gates of Trinity College said “My mother always told me not to take sweets from strangers!” that the penny dropped.

We are always told there is no such thing as a free lunch, and even in Ireland, where society is smaller and friendlier than others, we know that there is always a condition to kindness. Of course, you could always take a chocolate, find it laced with some kind of drug and wake up chained to a radiator missing a kidney.

(Disclaimer: Our Roses were laced with nothing, they were bought in Jervis Street Tesco and unopened until we hit the streets).

Only a handful of people were openly rude. While collecting on Henry Street at lunchtime, a girl looked at me with utter contempt and said, “No!” a tone that suggested I’d been around the fifth person that day to offer her sweets and she was bloody sick of it. In her defence, she looked as if she was having a terrible day, and as she stormed away, I heard her friend say, “What’s wrong with you? She was offering you chocolate!”

Still others made no eye contact, or the kind of eye contact that one makes with a particularly unpleasant insect. Years of working in retail have rendered me immune to such attitudes, but I have to say, if you get treated like that when you’re giving away stuff, what must it be like to try and take? Perhaps, with such difficult times in our country, it would be better if we all tried to give to each other, rather than demand.

Many asked what was the catch, and when we described what Powering Kindness was all about, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. We  even got called angels a couple of times, once by a Spanish student who was searching desperately for somewhere to rent in the city. Another guy was starving and wanted a fudge to keep him going until he got home.

Last night, on a nippy November evening, we made a special effort to target the people who were outside for a long period of time. We went to the Luas and bus stops and offered commuters a sweet, and the workmen digging up D’Olier Street, as well as the street performers on Grafton and Henry Streets (apparently, and pretty unsurprisingly, the fire juggler has burnt himself a lot). We even dropped off our leftovers to the guards once our shift was up. We also saw the extent of the city’s homeless problem, and tried to help whichever way we could, all with the inadequate feeling that a Rose was not enough.

So what do you learn about people by doing something like this?

Firstly, much as I love my smartphone and listening to music, you miss out on a lot by being glued to these devices, such as the opportunity for free chocolate. Secondly, most people are good and decent and polite. A no thanks delivered with a smile is all anyone needs. Thirdly, you can learn quite a bit about people going by their chocolate preferences. We heard some good anecdotes, and met some great people.

Lastly, one thing struck me. Of course, our faces are stuck in neutral when we’re waiting for the bus or walking down the street. But really, and truly, pretty much everyone is beautiful when they smile. The smile of someone who has been unexpectedly offered sweets is a lovely thing to behold. And isn’t that what kindness is all about, making someone else smile?

You still have time to log your random act of kindness on http://www.poweringkindness.ie. Follow your chosen charity on Twitter, or text CHILD (Childline), RESEARCH (Breakthrough Cancer Research) or SPECIAL (Special Olympics Ireland) to 51444.


Over the last few days, I’ve been on the streets of Dublin, handing out free chocolate. What, I hear you cry, why would anyone give away chocolate? There must be some sort of a catch!

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