Right after she did it, her boss called her into the office. It seemed like she had been caught. What everyone had perceived as an act of goodwill seemed to have a darker side, which would have consequences for her.
She walked towards the office with her heart racing. She felt like she could get away with what she did: but now, it seemed like she was in deep trouble.
Maria Balboa is a 19-year-old Texas A&M University student who works as a bagger at an H-E-B grocery store in the meantime to support herself and pay for her studies.
Recently, she protagonized a story at her workplace that went viral in a matter of days and also taught her a lesson: there are always consequences to one’s actions.
Maria’s life hadn’t been easy: she had been raised by her grandmother, as her parents were out of the picture. Growing up, there wasn’t a lot of money in the house. But she was raised in a happy, loving, and righteous home, and she never lacked a plate of food and a roof over her head.
She never had as many opportunities as her other peers. However, she made up for it in ways that some may find unusual for someone her age.
Things had been rough and difficult sometimes for her. But her grandmother had always done her best to teach her how to be thankful for what she had.
And that wasn’t all: she also taught her how to relate to the world and others to make the most out of her time on Earth. When the incident happened, her grannie’s lessons immediately came to her mind.
With hard work and dedication, Maria had managed to secure a studentship at Texas A&M University. However, she still needed some extra funds to support herself.
That’s why she started working as a bagger at that H-E-B store. When she took the job, there was no way she could have imagined that it would not also allow her to pay the bills, but also give her viral status just a month into it.
It all started when an elderly Hispanic woman entered the store with two kids. From the first minute, Maria felt some sort of connection to that woman.
She couldn’t put her finger on what exactly was that called her attention about her; but she kept an eye on her for almost the entirety of her shopping trip. Later on, she would understand everything. It was destiny that made Maria set her eyes on that lady.
After a few minutes, the elderly woman went to the cash register with a cart full of groceries. Maria kept her eyes on her as she placed all the items on the counter, and the cashier ran them through the machine.
Then, the cashier announced to the woman the total price of what she wanted to buy. And that’s when it all started.
The full price was $137. The old lady pulled out a card from her wallet; when she glanced, Maria noticed that it was a SNAP (government assistance) card. She probably was struggling at the moment, Maria thought.
And suddenly, something else happened. There seemed to be something wrong with the elderly woman’s payment. But what could it be?
As it turned out, she only had $19 on her SNAP card! She was disheartened to learn this: it was way less than she expected. She would have to leave the store with just the bare minimum for survival instead of what she wanted to take home for her grandkids.
She sighed and said that now she would have to put all the groceries back and take just a few things for dinner. And that’s when Maria decided to step in.
“l felt something telling me to pay, and it wouldn’t stop,” she told the press later. “My heart hurt for this woman, and especially the two kids. I wanted them to have groceries.”
“At that moment, I really felt God telling me to pay for the groceries. I felt a chill in my fingertips, and I didn’t know what it was at the moment,” she said. “After talking about it with one of my good friends, she told me, ‘Yeah, that was God.'”
And that’s what she did. The old lady was moved by Maria’s gesture, and she thanked her with tears in her eyes.
She also told Maria about her story and why she couldn’t pay for the groceries from her own pocket. And as Maria learned, she and the lady had more in common than what may have seemed at first sight.
“She explained that she had taken in her two grandkids when they were left by their mother,” Maria told the media later on.
“This was why money had been tight for her, and she had to take a lower-paying job so they wouldn’t go into the foster care system. She thanked me for my kindness that day because it really helped her out.”
Maria was glad to have done a good deed for the day. She got ready to resume her work, but right then, she noticed something.
Two of her managers had been watching the whole scene from a distance, and she heard one of them murmuring, “Did she really do that?” It seemed like her problems had just started.
Shortly after the lady and her two grandkids walked out the door, the boss called Maria into her office. He wanted to talk to her about something.
What could be the problem? Had she made a mistake by paying for the lady’s groceries? Maria’s heart and mind were racing as she walked towards the office, wondering if she was in trouble.
But when she got there, her boss was smiling. He had heard what she had done for the lady through the managers. He thought of it as a kind gesture that made her appreciate Maria as an employee even more.
So much so that he reimbursed her the $137 and also gave her a gift basket to show his appreciation. But in a different state, a similar occurrence would leave a restaurant flocked by police.
This particular event occurred in a Chinese-themed restaurant in Los Angeles, where Harry, a twenty-three-year-old, would get in trouble for doing something similar to what Maria did.
But in Harry’s case, his managers would take a more drastic measure than simply reimbursing him. He’d live to remember that day for the rest of his life.
Harry Gonzalez lived a life no different than Maria’s. He, too, had managed to fight through the uncertainties brought about by living in a struggling family.
He’d done the best with his life, landing a partial scholarship to one of the city’s most prestigious universities. Since the scholarship only covered his tuition, Harry sought work to support himself.
Living with his abuela and two older cousins, Harry had grown up knowing the importance of hard work, independence, and, most importantly, a giving heart.
His abuela had instilled in him all these values; through them, Harry had achieved so much in his life. So, it didn’t come as a surprise when he snagged a restaurant cashier cum waiter job. He had no idea what the future held for him.
Harry loved everything about his job. Not only did it allow him to keep all his bills in check, but it also balanced well with his social life and education.
Since the restaurant focused on authentic Chinese cuisine, it was also a great place to learn a new culture, which brought Harry so much joy. But things would soon take a turn for the worst.
Harry had been working at the restaurant for almost three months. He’d been making his employers proud so far, even going out of his way to make the restaurant a website that helped bring in new customers.
Harry was sure that helping the older man who came in was the right thing to do. But everything would soon become apparent when the police flocked the restaurant.
Like many across the globe, we tend to judge people by their looks. Sometimes, looks can be deceptive, a crucial fact that we should always consider.
For Harry, stepping in to help that man had been simply making sure that he didn’t go hungry. But the events would slowly unfold, leaving him and the entire city completely dumbfounded.
The day had been leaning toward a hot afternoon when the man walked into the restaurant. Despite the heat outside, the man had wrapped a thick woolen coat over himself.
He also had a cap, which perfectly hid his stare. Harry locked eyes with him the moment he stepped into the restaurant. He thought this was a regular customer looking to have some of their famous Peking duck with a side of sauteed green beans. He was wrong.
At first glance, the man’s clothing seemed worn. But on a closer look, Harry realized that the clothes were new, albeit a little dirty.
As he always did when customers walked into the restaurant, he hurried over with a menu, ushering the man to his preferred booth and telling him about the day’s special. He wasn’t even done talking when the man made a very odd request.
“He asked if we do to-go, to which I said yes,” Harry recalled while sharing his story at a local podcast. “He quickly ordered his food, barely even staying in his booth.”
Harry shared that the man seemed on edge, constantly looking out the window as if he was in trouble. “That’s when I decided to ask him if something was wrong.”
The man gave Harry a blank stare. Seemingly agitated, he sprung to his feet, looking to leave the restaurant. But he stopped after a few steps, turning to Harry with glossy eyes.
“I didn’t know what to think,” Harry shared. “I was afraid I had struck a nerve, and he was leaving.” Harry knew his excellent reputation would be tainted if the man left, but he didn’t care. He was worried about what could’ve made the man stand up so fast.
“Look, kid,” the man said. “I think I should go.” Harry insisted he stay, but the man would share something that would make him think otherwise.
“He said he didn’t even have the money for lunch and had planned to walk away with the food,” said Harry. “Despite feeling like something bad was about to happen, I just had to help him.”
Harry insisted the man sit down and hurried to the kitchen, only returning with food in a to-go box. He told the man the food was on him, adding that he hoped he liked everything.
But instead of leaving, the man stared at Harry, seemingly unsure of what was happening. His gaze bounced from the food to Harry, and his brows furrowed. He would do the unexpected.
The man sat in his booth and unwrapped the food. But before digging in, he reached into his coat, pulling out a firearm and placing it on the furthest end of the table.
He turned to Harry, who was frozen in place and asked him to call 911 and report the citing of a fugitive in the restaurant. He casually ate his food, his cheeks glistening as a distant smile spread across his face. What was happening?
As it turns out, Harry had just served one of the city’s most wanted criminals, an escaped convict who had been on the run for months.
On one of his court hearings, the man shared that he’d been stunned by the waiter’s heart. If there was one good soul on earth, a waiter who offered him a hot meal at his expense, then maybe he, too, could change his ways.
Although the restaurant didn’t reimburse Harry for the man’s food, it promoted him to acting assistant manager, offering to train him in the role until he became competent enough to step into it fully.
For Harry, lending a hand to someone in need was enough. But knowing that his kind gesture changed another person’s heart, making them want to be better, was everything.