The religious traditions talk about two kinds of charity. There is secret charity where you give anonymously with no expectation of either recognition or reward. Its spiritual benefit is that it disengages the ego from your act of generosity.

Then there is public charity, where you give and your gift is acknowledged. This is true of those who give and see their names appear on donor lists or in media stories about their acts of good will. The spiritual benefit is that your act of generosity inspires others to join you or find their own way of giving.

Ordinary Angels focuses on Sharon Steves (Hilary Swank), who practices both kinds of charity. A hairdresser in a small town, she is moved by the story of a local family that has experienced a loss -- the death of the mother -- and a challenge – the youngest of two daughters (Emily Mitchell) has the same rare disease as her mother and now is desperately in need of a liver transplant. But Ed (Alan Ritchson), the father, can’t even pay the hospital bills.

Sharon decides to raise money to pay the hospital and to provide ongoing support for the family. She has plenty of ideas on how to do this: offering free haircuts in exchange for donations, going for corporate donors, planting stories in the newspaper. The point is she doesn’t really know this family, and they don’t know her. But one day she shows up at their house, a stranger bringing some “secret charity” when they most need it.

Hilary Swank as Sharon and Alan Ritchson as Ed

Later, Sharon jumps into gear to get media attention to little Emily’s need for a liver transplant. Since the children’s hospital where a transplant can be done is 700 miles away, she also arranges for a plane to take her there. When a liver becomes available in the middle of a snowstorm, she rallies the entire community to make the plane trip possible. This is public charity at its most far-reaching.

Hilary Swank captures Sharon’s compassion and determination in this true-life story; you can’t help but marvel at what she accomplishes. Alan Ritchson is convincing as the father who is not too proud to accept her help. We all can learn from both of them.