The bulletin board in the coffee shop caught my attention. I moved closer to read its contents.
I quickly discovered that this billboard that you often see in mom-and-pop establishments was no ordinary advertising venue. The notes posted on it were all different but had a common theme.
This public service space was a pay-it-forward board. Pay-it-forward is when a person pays for something for someone else, usually anonymously. Paying it forward can be contagious. Doing so often leads to others returning the favor for future customers.
The examples pinned to the café corkboard were self-explanatory.
“For a parent,” read one. “For an aspiring archeologist,” and “for a pharmacy technician,” read two others. The notes ran the gamut of the human experience, including medical workers for their efforts in fighting the pandemic.
Situated in a northern Virginia town close to the Appalachian Trail, through-hikers often frequented this café to refuel and refresh themselves. Generous donors recognized their likely needs and provided an opportunity for the trekkers to enjoy a prepaid lunch or latte. Individuals were free to take the specific note or envelope that fit their situation.
Other pay-it-forward messages were for National Park workers who spend their careers helping others enjoy the great outdoors. In this particular case, nearby Shenandoah National Park sprawls 105 miles along Virginia’s famous Blue Ridge Mountains.
Regular visitors to the national park know that these dedicated park employees work hard for the money they earn. Many donate time helping out stranded motorists or searching for lost hikers.
I’m sure recipients appreciated the many kind gestures posted. I suspect that some may have also added their own pay-it-forward envelopes to the crowded board.
Last December, a pay-it-forward event that happened at a Dairy Queen in Brainard, Minnesota, received loads of media coverage. It became known as a chain of kindness.
Genuine benevolence began to flow during the lunch hour on December 3 when a man reached the drive-thru window and said that he wanted to pay for his lunch and the order for the car behind him.
That started a chain reaction of events that lasted into three days and involved 900 cars. Everyone kept paying for the vehicle behind them no matter what they had ordered. The Dairy Queen manager said that all of the kindness had energized her and her staff.
Paying it forward can be a spontaneous experience, too. During the devastating ice storm in Texas last February, the manager of an H.E.B. grocery store made an impromptu, impactful and gracious decision to pay it forward.
Customers seeking to stock up on food and household items to weather the storm and power outages packed the store. Suddenly, the store’s power went off. None of the cash registers worked without electricity.
Store employees asked all of the customers to come to the checkout counters. With shopping carts full, the lines of the crowded store were long. Customers expected an extended checkout when the line began moving.
Cashiers merely waved the customers through to the exit. People started crying when they realized what was happening. No one paid for anything.
In the parking lot, people helped one another load groceries into their vehicles. They, too, began paying it forward.
The grocery chain’s generosity didn’t stop there. H.E.B. donated $1 million in groceries to 18 Texas food banks.
Life offers a myriad of opportunities to pay it forward. As we go into this day and all the days ahead, let’s be alert for those unique chances to anonymously and graciously help others however and wherever we can.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2021