Paul Hullings and Tim Young had no idea that they were about to change someone’s life when they walked into the 130 Diner in Delran, New Jersey. It was 5:30 AM, and the diner was all but empty — save for a young waitress who was working the late shift.
When she quietly approached them with a note in her hand, they weren’t ready.
Paul and Tim were making their way home after one of the most intense nights of their lives when they decided to stop and get some coffee and breakfast. After the night they had just endured, they desperately needed the caffeine boost.
But when they saw the neon sign of the 130 Diner and pulled in, they had no idea what this fateful day would still have in store for them.
Paul and Tim were no strangers to hardship – in fact, they came face to face with it every day. What they had witnessed just a few hours ago was etched on their faces.
Little did they know, what was about to happen in the empty diner that morning would shake them to the core.
A Thankless Job
Liz Woodward was tired from her long shift, too. But she had to keep going. Keeping odd working hours took its toll, but when she reminded herself just what she was working toward she knew she had to grin and bear it.
She took note of the men’s sooty clothes and weary faces as they walked in and sat down. Her heart skipped a beat when she realized who they were.
On The News
Liz approached the men to take their orders, and that’s when Paul confirmed her suspicions. “I need the biggest cup of coffee that you have,” he said, rubbing his eyes. The other man nodded in agreement. Liz was happy to oblige.
She caught snippets of their conversation as she prepared their piping hot coffee. Glancing up at the breaking news segment on TV, she recognized the men’s faces right away.
Standing stock-still with the coffee pot still in her hand, she watched the news, spellbound. The fire had raged for most of the night, but thankfully it was finally under control.
It had broken out in a warehouse in North Brunswick, less than an hour’s drive away. She knew what she had to do.
Waiting for the men to finish their coffee and farmhouse breakfasts, Liz shook as she carefully wrote her note on their bill. She doodled a picture of an ax on one side as an afterthought before clearing their plates and leaving it on the table.
When Paul picked it up and began to read, tears filled his eyes.
Trouble At Home
The two Mount Holly Fire Department firefighters sat in silence, dumbstruck by what they had just read. The young waitress was obviously struggling herself – working weekends, night shifts, and whatever shifts at the diner she could to try to pay off her student load and make ends meet.
But they couldn’t have known just how much trouble she had at home.
Fighting The Fire
After battling the raging fire in a North Brunswick warehouse for more than 12 hours, Tim had realized that his partner and friend, Paul, was flagging. When they had finally managed to get the fire under control, the two men were exhausted.
It was Tim who had realized that Paul hadn’t eaten, so he decided to take a drive to the 130 Diner. And now, this.
Taking To Facebook
Liz’s life was about to change in a big way. After Paul and Tim read her note, they immediately posted it on Facebook, where it gained a lot of traction. The firefighters’ post was liked, commented on, and shared thousands of times!
Soon, people on the street were recognizing Liz. She became Facebook famous overnight. So, what did the note say?
Breakfast, On Her
“Your breakfast is on me today – Thank you for all that you do; for serving others and for running into the places everyone else runs away from,” Liz wrote.
“No matter your role, you are courageous, brave, and strong… Thank you for being bold every day! Fueled by fire and driven by courage – what an example you are. Get some rest.”
Problems Of Her Own
“I started tearing up and it made me feel good – us firefighters are wanted, people care about us,” Paul told WPVI-TV. But it was only after the post went viral that the firefighters learned that Liz had some serious problems of her own.
They found Liz’s GoFundMe account online and knew they had to take action.
She Needed Help
“Such a selfless and kind act. I definitely urge my friends to make a trip out and support the business, and if Liz happens to be your waitress, tip big,” Tim wrote on the Facebook post.
“Turns out, the young lady who gave us a free meal is really the one that could use the help…”
“We have rented a van before, twice actually, so that my Dad could attend his father’s funeral and his daughter’s graduation, since transport isn’t covered unless your trip is deemed medically necessary (and it’s very expensive out of pocket, even to rent for a few hours),” Liz wrote on her GoFundMe page.
“It was the first time since his aneurysm ruptured that he was able to interact with family members and friends he hadn’t seen in years.”
After Liz’s dad had suffered an aneurysm, he was left wheelchair-bound. Liz was trying to raise money with her GoFundMe campaign to buy him a wheelchair accessible van to make his life a little easier.
Paul and Tim were touched that their waitress was, once again, thinking about how she could better the lives of the people around her.
“We watched my father smile and we witnessed joy and accomplishment, and we watched his memory strengthen with every person who left his side in disbelief that he could remember exactly who they were and what got them in trouble back in the day,” Liz continued.
“See, my Dad is still Steve. He’s just Steve who survived a brain injury and now uses a wheelchair. He deserves to be Steve and not just a patient or a number on a chart.”
Awareness of Liz’s campaign quickly grew as more and more people saw Paul and Tim’s Facebook post about her kind deed. Soon, donations began to pour in from people all over the world.
The campaign’s goal was $17,000, but in just a few days the amount that had been donated doubled and then tripled.
Donations Pour In
The amount that was raised by kind-hearted donors exceeded $70,000 – more than enough to buy a brand-new hydraulic lift and van for Liz’s dad! And all because she saw two exhausted firefighters and knew she had to do something to make their day a little brighter.
She never expected to reap such a huge reward.
A Big Reward
As for Liz, she doesn’t think that picking up the firefighters’ $15 breakfast bill was a big deal. “I know it’s being remarked on as this extraordinary act. It’s small. It’s a little gesture,” Liz told WPVI.
She certainly never expected her act of kindness to snowball into such a grand gesture from her heroes!
After exceeding the campaign’s fundraising goal, Liz wrote a heartfelt thank-you and expressed her gratitude: “Our family has witnessed an outpouring of love and support from around the world, and I want to thank each and every one of you beautiful human beings for making this dream possible!”
It just goes to show that it really pays off to be kind!