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10 inspiring acts of generosity

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People generally aren't used to kindness from strangers. Most of us are too wrapped up in our lives to pay much attention to anyone else.

That's why it's so striking when strangers do something unexpected. The act may be as simple as holding the door open for someone else, or letting a person go first in line. Even the smallest actions can have an impact.

With some people, though, the well of generosity runs deep. They do incredible things to improve other lives, opening their pocketbooks or going the extra mile in unexpected ways.

Each of these actions changed lives, and in some cases saved lives. And nearly each one inspired others to act a little kinder or give more of themselves. Good deeds are funny like that.

Click ahead to see 10 acts of generosity that did more than make people smile.

​Buying a stranger’s wedding dress

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Liz Jensen found the perfect wedding dress last month at a Utah dress shop. When she went to pay for it, she learned that another woman had already taken care of the $495 cost.

The other woman had been at the shop trying on dresses at the same time. Instead of buying one for herself, she pointed to Jensen and said she wanted to buy Jensen's dress.

"I was just so incredibly touched," Jensen told WQAD. "To have that person who can look inside themselves to do something nice for someone else, it's something I'll never forget for sure."

Jensen said she plans to share the story to guests at her wedding and encourage them to do something kind for others.

​Ending a tough commute

Detroit resident James Robertson waves to the crowd after being surprised with the free gift of a 2015 red Ford Taurus sedan, at the Suburban Ford dealership in Sterling Heights, Michigan, February 6, 2015. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Detroit resident James Robertson found himself in the spotlight after people learned of his daily commute. The 56-year-old walked 21 miles and took two bus rides to get to his factory job earning $10.55 an hour.

The hellish commute left Robertson just two hours for sleep, The Detroit Free Press reported. A 19-year-old college student started a crowdfunding project on GoFundMe.com to buy Robertson a car, and donors ended up giving more than $350,000.

A Ford dealership also gave him a new Taurus. Robertson said he wanted the Taurus because "it's like me: simple on the outside, strong on the inside."

Robertson will also be coached by several unpaid financial advisors on how to handle his new fortune.

​Helping a homeless Good Samaritan

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This story has two acts of generosity. First, homeless man Shelby Hudgens spent hours pushing strangers' cars that were stuck in a snowstorm in Colorado Springs last month.

A stranger who watched Hudgens' actions set up a GoFundMe account to help Hudgens find a place to live. Donors contributed more than $22,000. "The world needs more people like this young man," wrote one donor who gave $20.

​Buying someone a meal

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A Texas man named Larry Clark stopped at a Chicken Express drive thru after a busy day of holiday shopping last December, only to find that his credit card was declined. It seemed he did so much shopping that day that the credit card company got alarmed and put his spending on hold.

A young cook working in back pulled out his personal credit card and paid for Clark's dinner, according to The Daily Light. Clark gathered a group of people, including the cook's parents, at the restaurant nearly two months later to say thank you. He gave the cook a $50 gift certificate.

Why did Clark do it? "Just to tell him don't stop being a good guy," he told the newspaper.

​Giving away valuable jewelry

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One of the red kettles that the Salvation Army in Boston displayed over the holidays got a surprise last December. A widow had deposited a $1,850 engagement ring and wedding band along with a note.

The anonymous woman said she wanted to donate the ring to honor her husband's memory. "I'm hoping there's someone out there who made lots of money this year and will buy the ring for 10 times its worth," the note read.

The donation inspired another Massachusetts widower to donate $21,000 to the Salvation Army in hopes that the ring set could be returned to the original owner, Boston.com reports. That owner did not come forward, though.

​Leaving a huge restaurant tip

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A West Virginia waitress got a big surprise earlier this year when one of her customers left her an $800 tip. One customer dining with his girlfriend told Alicia Torrance that he was having a bad day because his grandfather passed away, according to WTRF.com.

When it came time to pay the bill, the customer asked Torrance what she thought her time was worth. Torrance said she didn't answer because she didn't want to tell him how much to tip her. Some restaurant regulars nearby suggested a $100 tip. He decided to multiply that figure by eight.

"I was shaking and I thought about crying," Torrance said. She used some of the money to buy each restaurant employee a drink at the end of the night.

​Donating a massive cash prize

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A third-grade teacher in Dorchester, Massachusetts, won a $150,000 cash prize last year in a contest from Capital One. But rather than keep the money, Nicole Bollerman decided to donate it back to her school, according to The Dorchester Reporter.

Bollerman won the prize by entering Capital One's "Wish for Others" promotion. Her wish was that each of her students would leave for their December break with a book in hand. "Their love for reading and life is contagious," she wrote in her entry.

Capitol One delivered three books to each of Bollerman's students. The company also gave Bollerman a $150,000 check, which she turned over to the school. The city's mayor honored Bollerman at City Hall in December.

​Buying someone else’s groceries

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Beth Hughes, a stay-at-home mother in Oklahoma, was about to pay the grocery store cashier for food for her family's Thanksgiving dinner last November when a customer tapped her on the shoulder and said, "Ma'am, I'm going to pay for your groceries."

The woman stepped in and swiped her credit card, paying the $214 grocery bill, and then left, according to KJRH-TV. Hughes said she was so shocked that she can't remember if she said thank you. She shared the story on Facebook and said her friends said they were encouraged to do the same thing.

​Giving blood for decades

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A 64-year-old U.K. man has been donating pints of blood every three months for 30 years. Over that time, he's given about 120 pints, according to The Nottingham Post. He also donates his platelets regularly.

Colin Harrison said he started to give blood because he had just gotten divorced and was feeling emotional. "It's terrific and there's nothing to it really, it's very simple and easy to do and you make such a difference," he added. "I just think everyone should do it."

Harrison can't give any more blood, though. The scar tissue on his arm has become so thick that needles can't penetrate well.

​Lifting spirits with pizza

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Hazel Hammersley was staying at Children's Hospital Los Angeles in 2013 to get treatment for a fast-growing tumor in her abdomen. To lighten the mood, the 2-year-old's mother spelled out "SEND PIZZA" with masking tape on the window of her hospital room.

A photo of the sign made its way to the Reddit website, and users there sent more than 20 pizzas to Hammersley's room. The hospital eventually had to request that the pizza deliveries stop.

The best surprise for Hazel came last May, however. Doctors said her scans were clear and show no evidence of cancer.

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