- A vigilant Domino’s Pizza location near Salem, Oregon likely saved a regular customer’s life in 2016.
- During a busy rush hour service, McDonald’s cashier Kenny Soriano-Garcia took the time to cut up food and help a customer eat his meal.
- Sakina’s Halal Kitchen feeds people in need in Washington, DC, every single day – and the owner pledges not to stop as long as he owns the place.
- After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, chef José Andrés issued a rallying cry to cooks of all backgrounds and used every available resource to feed the island for months – without waiting for FEMA.
- Afterward, he formed the nonprofit World Central Kitchen to help feed people in the aftermath of disasters around the world.
As anyone who loves cooking and making food can tell you, it’s never just about the food – it’s also about caring for people.
From small to large, life-changing acts of kindness are probably happening at a restaurant near you and you may never even know it. Still, here are just a few that went viral for all the right reasons.
A waitress in Texas was surprised by a gift from her co-workers: a trip home
Mary Keulana-Riotutar was working as a waitress at Cheddar’s in Laredo, Texas, but since her family lived back in Hawaii, she hadn’t seen them in six years. Her co-workers decided to surprise her by raising money for a plane ticket so that she could go back and see her family.
Keulana-Riotutar posted a video of the emotional moment and noted in a Facebook post that she hadn’t even been working there for a year when they presented her with the surprise.
“As I’m typing this I can’t even find the words to describe how I feel or how to thank each & every person who pitched in for ME!” she wrote. “I know I’m not the easiest person to get along with, but for those who are closest to me know that I’m ALWAYS gonna be there to help you WHENEVER you need help, support, or just a friend to talk to.
A waitress at a New Jersey diner had been following local news about a terrible fire all night – so she bought two firefighters who had been fighting it their meal
Two firefighters who had been fighting a fire in New Brunswick walked into a Delran, New Jersey, diner and asked for the biggest cup of coffee they had one morning.
Waitress Liz Woodward told TODAY.com, “I had been following the New Brunswick fire on the news. This was their first meal in over 24 hours; the least I could do was buy it for them for all they do every day.”
Along with paying for their meal, she wrote the pair a nice note, thanking them for all they did. Both firefighters were touched and posted about what had happened on Facebook – urging everyone they knew to go eat at this diner.
Firefighters Tim Young and Paul Hullings soon found out that Woodward had been trying to raise money to get her dad a wheelchair-accessible van on GoFundMe and raised awareness of this effort on Facebook.
“Turns out, the young lady who gave us a free meal is really the one that could use the help.” Young wrote. Through Young and Hulling’s boosting of that campaign, nearly 2,000 people raised more than four times Woodward’s initial goal to get her dad that van, according to TODAY.
In 2016, a Domino’s Pizza location near Salem, Oregon, likely saved a regular customer’s life
According to KOIN news, customer Kirk Alexander had regularly ordered pizza from that store for 10 years – at least every other day. Since he ordered online, the store always knew it was him.
When employees noticed that he hadn’t ordered in 11 days, they knew something was wrong, general manager Sarah Fuller told KATU news.
Delivery driver Tracey Hamblen had worked at that Domino’s location for some time and was familiar with regular customers including Alexander. Fuller dispatched Hamblen to go check on Alexander, according to KATU.
When Hamblen arrived, he saw lights and the TV on but got no answer at the door. He also tried calling Hamblen a few times, but the phone just went to voicemail. He called 911 and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office came quickly.
When officers arrived, they heard Alexander calling out for help – and found him in need of medical attention inside. He was taken to a nearby hospital, and was soon listed in fair condition thanks to the quick thinking of his local Domino’s.
Fuller and Jenny Seiber, who was the assistant manager on duty at the time, were then surprised with tickets to see “Captain America,” according to ABC News. Domino’s also announced plans to take Fuller, Seiber, and Hamblen to Las Vegas for a corporate rally.
In 2015, a McDonald’s employee in downtown Chicago stopped to help a man with his meal during rush hour
A man in a wheelchair approached a McDonald’s cashier and asked for help cutting up in his food, according to WGN.
Though it was during rush hour, cashier Kenny Soriano-Garcia shut down his register and put gloves on before he came out to the customer’s table and started to help him cut up his food.
Customer Destiny Carreno captured the moment in a photo that she posted with the story on Facebook. She wrote: “My heart was so appreciative for what he did. I couldn’t contain my emotions in the crowded restaurant.”
WGN reported that McD’s location owner, Rod Lubeznik, released a statement honouring Kenny and his kindness:
“We are very proud of Kenny, and overwhelmed by the positive response he has received for his compassion and kindness. It’s a true testament to who Kenny is, and a reminder to us all that one seemingly small act of kindness can touch the hearts of so many. We recognised Kenny during an award presentation yesterday.”
In 2018, a similar story warmed the hearts of the internet: Evoni Williams who was working as a Waffle House waitress, was captured cutting up food for a regular customer
In March 2018, a photo went viral of Evoni Williams, 18, cutting up ham for a regular customer named Adrien Charpentier at a Waffle House in La Marque, Texas. Williams later told CNN that Charpentier had asked her to cut up his food as he had just gotten out of the hospital and needed a bit of assistance.
Williams said she happily helped and that’s when the photo was snapped by a diner named Lara Wolf and posted in a Facebook post that now appears to have been deleted.
The post quickly went viral and warmed the hearts of the internet, but that’s not where the sweet story ends. Williams was then honored with a $US16,000 scholarship to Texas Southern University. The Mayor of La Marque also declared March 8 Evoni “Nini” Williams Day.
Since 2005, a Michigan restaurant has offered diners who are alone on Thanksgiving a free meal
The holidays can be a rough time for many people and sometimes even tougher if you’re by yourself. That’s why restaurateur George Dimopoulos wanted to make things easier on anyone who’s alone on Thanksgiving at his restaurant, George’s Senate Coney Island, he told ABC News.
A sign on George’s Senate Coney Island’s door advertising the service went viral on Reddit in 2015, leading to media attention and the praise of many.
A native of Greece who moved to the US at age 23 and grew to own a string of restaurants, Dimopoulos has worked in the food industry his entire life.
He told ABC that this generosity comes from a very personal place. “The reason I do this is because I was alone one time. I remember the good times and bad times.” He also said that this policy is actually “all year round if people ask.”
Just blocks from the White House, this DC restaurant feeds local people in need every single day
When restaurant owner Kazi Mannan first came to America from a small town in Pakistan in 1996, he told ABC7 News that he only had $US5 in his pocket. “Once upon a time, I was in a similar situation where I didn’t have enough money to eat. You pass by a restaurant but never able to go in. When you don’t have money, nobody is going to let you in.”
He worked his way up to becoming the owner of Sakina Halal Grill in 2013 – and that’s when he decided that if you’re in need, hungry, and/or experiencing homeless, you can eat for free at his restaurant. Mannan named the place after his mother, who he said always made everyone feel welcome in their home – even when his family had no money.
Mannan told Eater why he developed this philosophy in a 2016 interview.
He said: “I’m a Muslim-American. And I like to believe that when I’m giving to the poor and hungry, God sees that. Just the act of giving a smile to someone can be a blessing. Just think about what food has the power to do.”
At EAT Café in Philadelphia, diners pay what they can and its founder mentors other restaurants with similar concepts in communities around the country
Tackling the problem of hunger and homelessness in local communities is a challenge that can only be met one meal at a time, something Denise Cerreta and like-minded folks have found over the years at various pay-what-you-can restaurant concepts around the country.
Through all that trial and error, Cerreta started the One World Everybody Eats foundation – an organisation that helps this type of charitable organisation get off the ground. Other restaurants with similar concepts, including Jon Bon Jovi’s JBJ Soul Kitchen, have been mentored by One World.
Although community cafes like EAT are a completely different concept than for-profit restaurant models, the James Beard Foundation took notice and presented Cerreta with a humanitarian award in 2017 according to the Washington Post.
When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, world-renowned chef and restaurateur José Andrés rallied a network of food workers from all kinds of restaurants to feed the island
Initially, Andrés said he thought he would fly to Puerto Rico following the hurricane and help stage mass cooking and feeding of residents for about a week.
In his book about the crisis called “We Fed An Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal At A Time,” he wrote: “My original plan was to cook maybe ten thousand meals a day for five days, and then return home.”
But when Andrés saw what was happening with his own eyes, he knew that he couldn’t leave. Instead, he formed Chefs for Puerto Rico and started a massive volunteer effort, drawing kitchen staff from all over to feed the island for months, using every single resource at their disposal – from restaurants to food trucks to church kitchens, according to the Washington Post.
From that informal organisation came Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, which focuses on feeding the hungry around the world when disasters hit. His work in this arena led Maryland state Representative John Delaney to nominate Andrés for a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
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