Some people get way too impressed when things go viral. The bigger the response to a video, funding campaign, or tweet, their thinking goes, the better must be the thing that prompted it.
Ergo, anything that doesn't break the internet couldn't possibly make an impact that matters.
Thankfully, reader response to three recent columns appealing for help blows that thinking to bits.
Take the tale of Mindy Hoffman of York, Pa., whose daughter Ruby, 4, has leukodystrophy, which robs children of the ability to walk, talk, and eat independently. The degenerative neurological disease is so rare, parents must go online to find other families whose kids also have the fatal disorder.
That's how Hoffman found Laura Mellor, whose daughter Tabriz, 4, and Ruby suffer from the same unusual form of the disease – H-ABC. Only about 100 children worldwide are known to have it.
Mellor lives in the South Pacific islands of New Caledonia, just east of Australia, where doctors have no expertise in Tabriz's illness. So when Mellor learned that CHOP's leukodystrophy center was to convene its first-ever conference on H-ABC (next weekend, Oct. 26-28), she was desperate to attend.
Her daughter would finally be evaluated by clinicians who've seen enough kids with leukodystrophy to recognize the disease's many nuances. The staff would then use the data to help design a clinical trial of H-ABC treatment.
Mellor launched an online campaign to pay for the 8,600-mile journey to Philly, but was falling short. So Hoffman started her own campaign to raise the additional funds.
I wrote about Hoffman's mission, and readers donated $9,000 to the cause. That's not an eye-popping amount, by any stretch. But it allowed the fund to issue travel or lodging grants not just to Mellor but to seven other families, including one from Egypt and another who had planned to drive cross-country to the conference – and then (oh, my heart) sleep in their car when they got here.
"I'm blown away," says Hoffman gratefully. " To know that everyone will be taken care of just makes my day."
Readers also came through for Alivia Whitaker, 7, who planned to sell lemonade on Oct. 6th at a voter-registration and arts fair at the Fishtown Rec Center.
I wrote how worried Alivia had been since she learned that Philly public-school kids who live closer than 1.5 miles to their schools do not qualify for the free SEPTA passes provided by the school district to students who live farther away.
For some, the walk takes them through sketchy neighborhoods and opioid encampments. Others dread the walk when the rain and wind are blowing sideways.
Alivia, who hoped to raise $100 in lemonade sales to pay for passes for kids attending Fishtown's Penn Treaty School, actually raked in $700 in donations to the nonprofit Friends of Penn Treaty School, which is now figuring out ways to divvy up all the funds to help the most kids.
Meantime, Venise Whitaker, Alivia's mom, says her daughter has made two new friends, thanks to the column. Two young sisters from Washington D.C. (urged on by their grandmom, who read my column) wrote Alivia to say that she was a role model and to ask if she'd be their pen pal.
Laughs Whitaker, "She said yes."
Finally, readers have caused a very happy problem at Kensington High School, where students of engineering teacher Eric Cruz are transforming an empty classroom into a library (the school's former library closed years ago). The kids yearn for a peaceful place to set aside their laptops and read a plain old book in a comfy chair.
The library needed everything, I wrote in my column about the kids: fresh paint, furniture, carpets, wall art, window treatments, tables, chairs, adult volunteers and books, books, books.
Cruz has been inundated with offers from readers touched by the desire of tech-savvy teens to create such a low-tech space of serenity.
People have been stopping by daily with boxes of books. They're also ordering so many materials online (Cruz created a library wishlist on Amazon) that supplies are arriving at the school every other day – like a Dell laptop, a digital book-inventory tool, heavy curtains. They're also cleaning out their homes and donating still-good household items, tickled that the stuff will get a second life in a school library.
Oh, and last week, a representative from the The Ellen Show phoned the school to ask for Cruz's contact info (everyone's fingers are crossed).
"I can't keep up!" says Cruz. "I spend my days teaching and my nights answering emails and making calls. Every day has been like Christmas. The kids can't believe it!"
But I can.
Our communities are filled with good people who love being part of collective action that brings about change for the better. So tell me: What's going on in your world that, with a columnist's focus and readers' support, might do the same? Think of the last time you found yourself saying "That's just not fair, " or "This could use some attention" – and then let me know how I can help.