23 customers in a row “pay it forward”
UNION GROVE — When it comes to giving back, customers at a McDonald’s restaurant have come together to take a leap forward.
Twenty-three customers in the restaurant’s passageway took turns paying the person closest behind them on Thursday – a new record number at the restaurant.
“It was a little unreal,” said employee Sharlene Wincek, who worked on the crossing lane at the time.
The spontaneous gesture of goodwill toward strangers so impressed the McDonald’s team that Wincek posted it on Facebook, praising Union Grove for the community’s generosity.
It also turned an average workday into a memorable and heartwarming experience.
Restaurant manager Tyler Gaethke said he was amazed to see so many people reaching into their pockets and connecting with complete strangers through mutual goodwill.
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“Sometimes you have good days and bad days,” Gaethke said. “But it was a beautiful day.”
The concept of “paying it forward” — popularized by a 2000 film of that name – involves random acts of kindness towards others, usually by buying their coffee, meal, or groceries. This is often done anonymously, so a recipient never knows who their secret donor was.
At the Union Grove McDonald’s restaurant, 835 15th Avenue, which serves about 900 customers a day, employees typically see someone drive-thru about once a day.
A recipient has the option to grab their free lunch and go. But often when someone finds out their meal has been paid for, they continue the spirit of giving by paying anonymously for the person in line behind them. Etc.
The previous record streak at the restaurant was 15 consecutive people.
Bob Wright of Burlington was number 8 in the streak Thursday. When Wincek told him his Big Mac meal had been paid for, Wright smiled and moved on to the next customer.
Even though it ended up costing Wright a few dollars more than his own lunch would have cost, he said, it felt good to help someone else.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” he said. “Someone buy you lunch – why not?”
Wincek said she’s always careful not to pressure people into going on a pay-per-view streak. She realizes that money is scarce and even a few dollars can make a big difference for some families.
When Wincek watched one customer after another pay until 23 had participated, she was speechless.
Several of them paid more than their own meal would have cost. But whether the next customer got a simple cup of coffee or lunch for a car full of people, everyone kept giving and giving.
“It was beautiful,” Wincek said. “I feel like it’s the community coming together.”
The process sometimes slows things down in the restaurant’s driveway, as employees take a moment to explain to each customer what’s going on.
But no one seems to care about the small inconvenience.
Autumn Russell, a shift manager at the restaurant, said she had worked at other McDonald’s locations in the past. She’s never seen so many people paying like she does in Union Grove.
Russell said she wouldn’t complain if the line moved a little slower.
“People want to help each other,” she said. “That’s wonderful.”