The Citizen Spotlight is a project I started with the Oklahoma Gazette. In each issue we highlight a person in our community who stands out for their leadership, kindness, and good deeds. Read it on the Oklahoma Gazette website here.
Citizen Spotlight: Disty Simpson & Matthew Danuser of Fill My Basket
Small acts of kindness can go a long way, and it’s what inspired Disty Simpson and Matthew Danuser to start filling baskets.
In 2016, Matthew saw a video of a man purchasing someone’s groceries and walking away, asking nothing in return. He hopped on social media to find that Disty had seen the same video. Deeply touched by what he’d seen, Matthew reached out to his friend and said, “I want to do this.”
The pair didn’t start with much. At the time, Matthew worked as a car salesman and decided to donate his $500 bonus to the cause. Disty was bartending and could only contribute $60, but they were determined to make an impact.
“I’m like, ‘I have 1,800 friends on Facebook, if everyone gave me just $1, this could work.’ So we did a fundraiser, and we raised five bucks. From one single guy who worked for me who said he believed in me,” Simpson said. “So we kept going and did another fundraiser that night, and the next morning, a gentleman gave us $300, raising around $600. So the first time we did this, we were able to spend about $1,200 purchasing groceries for people.”
“I thought we were just going to do it once and go back to our normal lives,” Danuser said. “And somebody knew us and sent it to the news, and it’s just grown from there.”
The story didn’t stop there, and the idea continued to grow farther than they ever would have imagined. Soon after the duo’s first grocery buying mission, Upworthy reached out and offered to film a video telling their story and sharing their message. On Nov. 13, 2016, World Kindness Day, the Fill My Basket team released their video in Paramount Cinema on Film Row, inviting everyone who had donated to their cause or received a gift of kindness to attend. By 2017, they had grown enough to become a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization.
Four years later, the Fill My Basket mission has extended far past Oklahoma. The nonprofit now has affiliate groups across the U.S. and reach- ing as far as China, where they were featured on a local radio station inspiring citizens to take part in random acts of kindness. Each Fill My Basket affiliate group is entirely funded by volunteers, community generosity, and donations from local businesses.
“We have people in Greece, the Philippines, Australia, that are all doing acts of kindness. It’s crazy, you know, but it all starts here. We have so many resources here that we had no idea. People actually want to help other people but maybe they don’t know how, or they have stuff they don’t know what to do with it. We now have so many outlets that we’re able to take them and just be that nice hands and feet to get those things to people that need it,” Danuser said.
Since its inception, Fill My Basket
has raised over $32,000 paying for over 600 grocery baskets. And while they do look for people who need help, the non-profit doesn’t stop there.
“It’s not really up to us; we believe that everyone deserves an act of kindness. It’s not about money; it’s just about that act of kindness,” Simpson said. “Even a person who has money can benefit from receiving a blessing of kindness, and it can be huge for them because maybe no one has done anything for them in a long time … For us, it’s about stopping what you’re doing— just using a random act and thinking outside the box. There are just so many people that could use just a little bit of a push, and if that push is kindness, it can go a long way.”
For Simpson and Danuser, Fill My Basket has become a way of life, and they exemplify its mission wherever they go. In 2019, after accepting an invitation from Netflix Studios to visit the set of the film “Good Sam,” Disty and Matthew contacted Los Angeles restaurants and rented bikes to take donated food to the residents of Skid Row, a 50-block area downtown known for its high rates of homelessness.
In recent months, low morale amongst hospital and nursing staff still overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pan- demic inspired Disty and Matthew to team up with Brown’s Bakery to do Donuts for Nurses. They now deliver fresh donuts and baked goods to the local hospitals a few days a week. Over the next month, they’ll collect pallets of donated pumpkins to create carving kits for underprivileged children. Throughout the holiday season, they’ll team up with volunteer Santas to dis- tribute toys, clothes, backpacks, and other needed items.
Kindness just feels good and even the smallest bit of it can change some- one’s life in unexpected ways.
“We had a veteran tell us after we bought his groceries that he had been considering suicide,” Danuser said. “He told me that no one’s ever done anything like this for him and this could have saved him. We were just out in some random small town, it was truly like it was meant to be. And it was so awesome, it’s such an incredible feeling to know you’ve helped someone.”
With no plans of slowing down, the duo has big dreams for the future of Fill My Basket and they hope their philosophy catches on.
“We started with groceries; we still do groceries. But our true basis is these random acts of kindness and hopefully inspiring people to be kind to each other and continue doing small acts. It’s changed us.” Simpson said. “It’s changed the people around us. I truly believe little ripples can create giant waves.”
For more information about Fill My Basket or to donate, visit fillmybasket.org or https://www.facebook.com/fillmybasket.org