I got a fun letter over the Christmas break from a college student who was perhaps misidentified.

Jared Nash is from Galchutt, N.D., a little community near Wahpeton, where I imagine everybody knows your name. He had an interesting encounter that got me thinking about how and why we treat people the way we do.

Here’s Jared’s letter:

“I was on my way home to North Dakota for Christmas break. I was coming from school in Chicago on the bus, but I had an entire Friday to spend in Minneapolis with no place to go.

“So there I was in Starbucks with my backpack and duffel bag, my sweatshirt and wind jacket and boots. I got my raspberry mocha and walked over to the corner to read my book and set down my bags. When a young woman smiled at me as I walked by, I knew I was back in Minnesota.

“After a few minutes, she walked over to me, smiled again and said, ‘Merry Christmas’ as she set down $40 with a note that said ‘Jesus loves you’ and walked out. I think she thought I was homeless. I passed on the Christmas spirit by giving gift cards from Starbucks to the guys at the group home where I used to work.

“I wasn’t offended by her gesture of kindness, but I’ve been laughing since then that my exterior gave her the impression that I needed the money. When she walked up to me, I had no idea what she was going to do. I was mostly speechless, and only managed to make out a ‘thank you’ before she walked away.

“I attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. I’m a senior, and I head back on the 11th. I’m not planning on having time to kill, but if I do, I might just head over to that Starbucks with my bags again!”

Jared’s story is like a fun murder-mystery without the murder. We don’t know the woman involved or what prompted her to give to Jared, so we’ll never really know if she did indeed think he was down on his luck or if she had another reason for giving.

I think sometimes we try to look for the person who is most in need when we extend kindness to others. But what exactly qualifies as neediness? Is it the unshaven guy wearing a sweatshirt and carrying his life’s possessions on his back? Or could it be the mom who is snowed in and overwhelmed by a houseful of children? Or maybe the man who eats at the restaurant by himself now that his wife has passed?

I guess my point is, we are all needy in some way. We all long to feel loved and appreciated and cared for by others. Sometimes we wear our neediness on our sleeves for all to see, and other times, it’s hidden beneath a shiny, well-groomed exterior.

Maybe that woman at Starbucks didn’t think Jared was homeless. Maybe she looked at him and saw a light that shined so brightly she was compelled to love, compelled to give. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not important that we give kindness to the right person. It’s just important that we act on what tugs at our heart. As long as kindness happens, it can continue to be contagious.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.