A gift from a complete stranger

Lately, I’ve been going to the local Starbuck’s after work to relax with a cup of
mocha while scribbling in my sketchbook. A few days before Christmas a woman
came up to my table and without saying a word, left a Starbuck’s gift card with
“Merry Christmas!” written on it. She quickly moved to the next table, dropping off
another card before heading for the door. It took me a few seconds to realize what
had occurred and was I able to say “Thank you!” before she exited the cafe.

I’ve never had anything like this happen before and was a bit surprised.
Have any of you ever had a complete stranger come up to you and give
you a gift?

I’m sure that it has happened to me, but offhand I don’t remember specifics.

I’ve done it. On occasion while at the drive-thru I’ll pay for the vehicle behind me. It’s a random thing that is fun to do. If the person comes up to thank me, I mention to them that when they’re in a position to do something like that, to go ahead and pay it forward.

At a restaurant where my wife and I were having dinner, at a couple of tables over there were four USAF airmen having their dinner. We picked up their tab when we left.

They are small seeds of kindness we can plant as we go about our day.

It’s not really all that special — small acts of kindness can include something as simple as holding a door open for someone. When I was a young Marine PFC traveling in the airport, a complete stranger bought my drink once, many years ago. He was a Marine too, although much older than I.

At the 2007 World Series in Denver, at game 3 I bought a round of drinks for about 8 Marines in uniform.

I think many people do this kind of thing. It’s not all that special, but it’s a way to help make the world a better place.

At the grocery store last week, a woman bought my groceries. She was nowhere in sight when I left. I was speechless.

How, exactly, does that work, paying for someone’s groceries while being nowhere in sight.

Don’t you have to be present when the transaction is completed?

(Not doubting, just wondering)


A year or so ago, my MIL was grocery shopping. She’s nearly blind, so she often asks other shoppers to read labels for her. And at the time, her wallet was really ratty and worn - she hadn’t replaced it because she couldn’t find one she liked. While not wealthy, she wasn’t destitute.

But on two different occasions, someone in the grocery store paid for her purchases - small orders likes eggs and bread and milk. MIL thanked the people but she was a little bit embarrassed, knowing her ratty wallet made her look poverty-stricken.

I, too, was baffled. After the woman left, the clerk started tallying my groceries and I tried a couple times to get the customer terminal to accept my iPhone payment. The terminal screen was blank and the clerk tallied and patiently said, “Wait a moment, please.”

So I just stood there with my phone at the ready.

The clerk finished tallying the order, totaled it and handed me a receipt. I stood looking at her and she shook the receipt for me to grab.

I started to say something like, “. . . but I . . . .” and it it didn’t register for a couple seconds when the clerk said, “The woman ahead of you paid for your groceries. Merry Christmas.”

I think my mouth moved but no words came out, and, believe me, I’m not the type generally at a loss for words.

The woman apparently inserted her card again just before she left. That’s all I can figure. (We need a check-out expert here to help us understand.)

I could’t even say thank you to the woman. She was nowhere in sight neither in the store or the parking lot.

I think that’s how it happens. Wait for the items to be tallied and then put your card in. Except there usually needs to be some coordination beforehand, like mentioning your plan to the cashier.

My wife and I have been doing this for years, usually once every 2 or 3 months. When I retired 2 years ago we talked about things we would have to cut back on and this was one of those things. Well we found out something. We are probably eating out a little more often than we use to and we are buy meals for others a bit more often too. On Christmas eve we stopped at an Applebees for lunch and we sat near an older couple. They ordered only one entrée to share. My wife went over and offered to buy their lunch and told them to each order their own meal. They said they only need one, she told them to take the other one home and have it for dinner. The manager came over as we were leaving and told us that they gave them 2 meals to take home and gave us a $25 gift card as a thanks for our generosity. We thanked the manager and he left. I slipped the gift card to the couple.

My wife and I had a good laugh about this as we drove home. We usually buy meals for older folks but we realized that as we are in our mid 60’s, those older folks probably aren’t much older than us.

On Christmas day I was my usual walk around the neighborhood when a car pulled up alongside me. The woman driving rolled down her window and beckoned me over.

“Do you eat kale?” she asked. Somewhat taken aback, and more than a bit wary, I said yes.

She held out a shopping bag with two packages of Cut ‘n’ Clean (“The original since 1995!”) kale. “Here you can have these, I thought I was getting mustard greens!”

I hesitated for a second --I didn’t really need two bags of kale, but what the heck-- and took the offered produce. I said “Thanks for the Christmas present!”

So, having experienced an odd bit of random Christmas cheer, we both went on our way.

@Broomstick can probably explain.


That reminds me. I ordered takeout from a favorite restaurant and was parked in back. A guy was hanging out at the back door, not panhandling or asking for food but he looked like he could use a meal. I brought him in with me to order from the menu — it’s Mediterranean and I don’t know the menu too well. He ordered, and I offered that if he wants a beer to add that to, I paid and picked up my meal.

While we were inside doing that, though, some staff members were looking at us. He wasn’t really messy, but he certainly didn’t fit in with the Silicon Valley tech folks who are usually there. He certainly was not business casual. Neither was I in my usual shorts and flipflops. But that’s my usual business casual.

He had to wait for his order so I wished him well and left.

The next time I ordered from there the manager sought me out. She asked about that, and then she gave me a $50 gift card. Very nice. The guy was long gone, so I ended up using it.

That manager and i are in friendly terms now. I know her name and we share a hug and a greeting when I’m there.

These little things can help make the world a more loving place.

I think it depends on the system the store uses. Around here, Walmarts (at least, they used to) had a card system where you could scan your card while the cashier was still scanning items, so as to save a few seconds at the end of the transaction. No other store I’ve ever seen used such a system, but clearly it’s possible to do that. So the cashier could have started a new transaction, the woman would scan her card, and then the cashier starts scanning your items. At the end, all you need to do is confirm the final tally.

I’ve done it now and then, but I haven’t been a recipient (which is fine).

But if you stick around until the clerk has finished scanning the items of the person whose groceries you’re buying (in order to confirm the tally), how is that anonymous?

All the various brands of grocery stores around here have that feature now. Once the first item of an order is scanned by the cashier, the customer can tap / insert / swipe.

Stores will do anything to shave a few seconds off the transaction time and get more work per cashier (or per checkstand) per day.

I mean the person who is getting the groceries. The person paying doesn’t have to stay around. You just need someone to click on the “Accept” button. Any PIN needed would already have been input by the person paying.

I can present my phone or credit card as soon as the cashier starts the magic on the register. Afterwards I just move out with no acceptance or signature.

That’s how the woman got away before I knew what was happening.

You guys keep saying this is just a “little thing”. Trust me, as someone who is currently a recipient of such kindnesses, it is not a little thing. I want to, and do weep with thankfulness.

Bac in high school, I was a waitress at a Perkins restaurant and we had a couple who would come in and order coffee. And then leave a tip that was bigger than the bill. This behavior not only floored me, but it taught me about the joy they were having when doing this. I was training a friend as a waiter there when the men were seated in my section so I couldn’t resist sending my friend over to take his first order solo. The men ordered their coffee, and left the big tip and my friend was really chuffed at doing such a good job. That was fun.

Since then, I’ve always tried to pay it forward when I could but I never thought of being a recipient of such generosity until I needed help and someone pointed out to me that it’s unfair to be giving and to deny others that joy when I needed help. She was right. And thanks to my Double Extra Secret Santas and a couple of others here on the board (one, a lurker) that I am surviving my depression and joblessness. And thanks to the local food shelf, which did reopen today. I now have potatoes, milk, ground beef and in a holiday surprise, caramel corn!

People underestimate how much people value these small kindnesses.

Of course I am pretty generous with giving Starbucks gift cards to total strangers. I don’t need to be around when they find out there’s no money on them… Joking!

You have a very wise friend. I used to work for the food stamp office and talked to so many people who were so embarrassed and ashamed to have to ask for help when they used to be the ones who did the helping and donating. I always spent a little extra time with them, trying to help them understand that there was no shame in asking for help when needed because they were human beings and had value and worth no matter what their financial situation.

To the topic, Hubs was a Marine and has the faded tattoo on his arm and wears a USMC baseball hat. He has had someone pay for his meal several times and it always makes his month. Of course, he has paid for other people’s meals as well for the same reason.

My father had dementia in his later years but he loved his Korea Vet hat because he could remember Korea (I’d guess it would be pretty hard to forget being in a shooting war in a foreign country) and people would come up to him and talk to him and shake his hand. Being recognized and appreciated after all those years was such a precious gift to him.