What she saw was a man in uniform down on his luck, shuffling anxiously from foot to foot as he heard the four words that made his world collapse. She felt sadness, and then annoyance as the injustice dawned on her. She knew she had to do something about it. But what the kind-hearted woman didn’t know was that she had fallen for an elaborate ruse – but she wasn’t the only one being fooled.
San Antonio resident Linda Cuppers has a heart of gold. She runs a food kitchen for the needy, and unfortunately many of the people she serves are veterans. With both her son and her grandson in the US army, she is well aware of the problems that many veterans face on a day-to-day-basis. This made Linda the perfect target.
On that fateful day, Linda was shopping for a few groceries at her local supermarket when she noticed the man ahead of her in the checkout line. The city of San Antonio, also known as Military City USA, is well-known for welcoming The United States Military with open arms, so it was not unusual to see soldiers out and about as they went about their daily lives. But one such soldier wasn’t what he appeared to be.
The cashier began to scan the soldier’s items – baby food, diapers, and some other essentials – while making polite conversation. Noticing his uniform, she asks if he is in the military. “Yes, ma’am,” he replies. Then she thanks him for his service. “I see you have a baby at home?” she asks cheerily. The soldier answers loudly enough to make sure that the people behind him in the checkout line can hear his reply.
“She was born during my last deployment,” he says with a sad smile, knowing that this will pull on Linda’s heartstrings. The cashier raises an eyebrow and says “I’m guessing home’s a little different, huh?” and the soldier nods before continuing with his act. With a faraway look in his eyes he says: “My wife would tell you that I’m the one who’s different… being over there took its toll on me, I guess. I had a hard time holding down a job.”
The cashier, clearly uncomfortable with where this conversation is going, interrupts with “Ummm… your total is thirty-nine ten.” The soldier hands her his cash with a surprised look on his face. “Wow… that much?” he asks, frowning as she counts it. She stops suddenly to give him the bad news. “You’re eight dollars short…” The soldier looked crestfallen. But everything was going exactly according to plan.
Of course, Linda fell for it. She felt the soldier’s story touch something inside her. She watched sadly as he made a show of returning some of the items to bring his total down. “How much are you short now?” she asks. But he still didn’t have enough money for the baby formula. With a stern expression, she says “I’ll take it,” and motions for him to step aside. Linda, having no idea that she’s just been scammed, goes a step further to help the soldier.
She tells him that she runs a food pantry nearby and that she feeds a lot of veterans. She adds that the soldier should come and see her and that she’ll take care of him and his baby. He thanked her and went on his way, but he didn’t leave the supermarket. Then, he started his ruse again with some other unsuspecting shoppers. Would they pity him, too?
Lo and behold, as soon as Linda leaves, the soldier is running through the same routine. And this time when he doesn’t have enough cash, another man wearing a cap with the words “Vietnam Veteran” emblazoned on its front steps up to help. “I’ll take care of the balance,” he tells the cashier – who we’ll find out later is in on it too.
And so it went, another man paid for the soldier’s entire grocery tab with a $20 bill, then tells him to keep the change! But this time when the actor runs through his routine, he boldly added a case of beer to his groceries to see how much he could get away with. But would the people catch on?
A woman named Cecelia Baron footed the soldier’s entire bill – and even paid for the case of beer, exclaiming “Why not? Everybody likes to enjoy a beer once in a while.” Then, Betty Allen, a senior citizen with barely enough money of her own to scrape by, donates $3. She sweetly adds: “kiss the baby for me!” By the end of the day, the actor posing as a soldier has accumulated over $100 from unsuspecting shoppers.
You see, the ‘soldier’ and the ‘cashier’ were actually part of a much grander scheme. The actor playing the soldier’s name is Ryan, and the cashier’s name is Lorraine. ABC has a popular show called “What Would You Do?” where actors try to elicit help from passersby as a social experiment – and the people of San Antonio proved that they were more than willing to help someone in need. But what will they do when they find out they are on a television show?
Linda Cuppers, the first person to step up to help the ‘soldier’, is floored to find out that it had all been an act. When the show’s presenter, John Quinones, approaches her and asks “why did you do it?” she replies with an answer straight from the heart that reveals her true character.
“That’s what I do,” she explained. “I help people… we should be taking care of our military much better than we are.” And it’s true. The statistics are alarming. Veterans are particularly at risk of becoming destitute due to a number of reasons, from being unable to adjust to life as a civilian to suffering from PTSD and subsequently being unable to find work. Around 39,500 homeless veterans sleep on the street on any given night. But what was Betty Allen’s reason?
Betty Allen’s reaction to finding out she was on a television show was similar to Linda’s – even though she had barely enough money for herself, she still gave what she had to someone she thought needed her help. “I have the love of God in me,” she explained, “God is good.” John asked her if she had a lot of money, and she laughed and said: “I’m just scraping by myself!”
When John approached Cecelia Baron and told her that it had all been an act and that they wanted to see what would happen, she said: “with our veterans? We love them.” She revealed that her husband was also a veteran, so she felt compelled to do what she could. She said it’s her duty to take care of our soldiers: “I can earn a living so I can help my fellow human beings.”
The generous individuals’ reasons for helping who they thought was a veteran in need vary, but they all come from the same place – be it faith or an overwhelming need to help others. And viewers of the show couldn’t get enough of the kindness they saw San Antonio residents display that day. The video has over 32,365,000 views from people from all over the world, and some responded in the most emotional way.
One commenter wrote: “I would do the same thing these kind people did for our veterans. They have served our amazing country and risked their lives so we can live in peace and prosperity here. God Bless America and God Bless our Military and Veterans.” And another: “It makes me teary watching people not being able to pay for their own food and giving people money even though they can’t afford it.”
The most surprising outcome of the social experiment was that almost every person who saw the ‘soldier’ unable to pay for diapers and baby food decided to help him, even though they had no idea that they were being filmed. And of course, all of their money was returned to them after the big reveal.
The video shows that there are good people in the world who will help someone in need – and that San Antonio looks after its veterans. But what would you do if a soldier in front of your line of the grocery store can’t pay for his items? What if those items are for his baby? Would you help?