TAMPA — It gets a little crazy in here, said the man holding a door on the second floor at Metropolitan Ministries.
Jacob Robinson went in first. He carried a bag with four boxes of saltine crackers. Zachary Robinson followed with jars of peanut butter.
Chatter from 42 children who live at the shelter engulfed them. Most were seated at cafeteria-style tables in the after-school program, where the walls are accented with colorful murals and kid artwork.
The twins, 13, walked up to a woman, Robyn Mellin, who was hugging a child, and started to explain why they came.
They brought us snacks, Mellin tells the children, who cheer loudly: "Yay!"
Jacob asks if these kids know about the 26 people who were lost in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. For this, Mellin gathers a group of fourth- and fifth-graders.
• • •
Jacob remembers the Friday when it happened. He was putting his bookbag in the back of his mother's car after school when she hugged him.
In the car, the boys could tell she had been crying. She told them what had happened at the elementary school. They were shocked. But mostly, this was an incomprehensible anguish they would see in their parents' eyes.
• • •
About a dozen kids are at the table when Jacob starts talking.
"My brother and I are Jewish so we're doing our bar mitzvah. Are you familiar with bar mitzvah?"
No one answers.
"It's kind of like a confirmation," he said, and explained how it comes with a project.
Zachary follows journalist Ann Curry on Twitter and saw a tweet from her launching a plan to do an act of kindness honoring each of the victims of Sandy Hook. From their home in New Tampa, the boys saw people around the world doing acts.
"So we came up with 26 different ideas," Jacob said to the children. "Some off the top our head."
He held up an index card and read:
"This is number seven in honor of Dylan Hockley, who was 6. He was one of kids who got murdered."
• • •
The boys hand the snacks to the children and Zachary sits down at another table next to a girl named Summer, who has a deck of flash cards.
"Find the one that goes with this," Summer tells him, giving him the deck.
The boys have 15 minutes before they leave to make it to Schaarai Zedek, where they are studying for their bar mitzvah. They plan to celebrate in Jerusalem on March 14, and here on April 19.
"Are you in college?" Summer asked Zachary.
He laughs. They are seventh-graders in an International Baccalaureate program at Williams Middle School.
• • •
For their other acts, they gave a gift card to an older couple in a restaurant. The woman thanked them.
They gave a sandwich to a man standing on a street corner selling a newspaper. Before the light changed to green, he told them he is from Pennsylvania, from an area near where their mom came from.
"That made me a little teary eyed," said Jacob.
They plan to do a few every week until they reach 26 acts of kindness.
"It shows that people care," said Zachary. "In bad times, there's a spark of hope."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.