Firefighters Tim Young and Paul Hullings didn’t expect that particular day to be special when they decided to have a snack of the 130 Diner in Delran, New Jersey.
The restaurant was empty and is was 5:30 in the morning, but there was one lone waitress who was walking around working the shift — and when she walked up to them holding an ominous note, they weren’t ready for what they read.
It was one of the most intense rescues they’ve encountered in their entire careers as firefighters, so Paul and Tim decided to take a break after their work and go straight to a nearby diner for breakfast and coffee. They had a very long night and needed the boost of energy to welcome another day.
They heaved a sigh of relief upon seeing that 130 Diner’s sign was lit up. The parking lot was empty but the lights from inside were all on. Little did they know that it was going to be the start of a series of surprising events.
Facing difficult situations was nothing new to the two men, who seem to never run out of challenges to fight every single day. In fact, what has transpired the night before remained etched in their memory. They were also very weary and spent.
However, nothing could have prepared them for what they would experience in that lonely diner.
Being in the service industry is a noble, yet, sadly, often thankless job. Liz Woodward has also had a very long night, having been asked to man the tables by herself on a busy night. Working at odd hours had started to take a toll on her health, but she plodded on, knowing that it would help meet her and her family’s needs.
When she saw the two firemen walk in, their clothes dusty and sooty and parts of their faces blackened, she was taken aback. But when she realized who they were, her surprise turned into something else.
She moved towards them slowly to take their orders. When Paul finally spoke up, her theories had been confirmed.
“I need the largest cup of coffee you have on the menu,” he said, and his companion agreed. She tried to eavesdrop on their conversation while she was preparing their drinks. She was going through the motions of starting the machine when she glanced up at the TV — that’s when she finally recognized their faces.
She couldn’t take her eyes off the TV. Coffee pot in hand, she found herself stunned by what she is seeing. There had been a huge fire that went on for the majority of the night until morning. It happened at a warehouse in North Brunswick, which was about 30 minutes away from the diner.
She looked at the damage caused by the fire and then she looked at the two men seated at the booth. She knew what needed to be done.
Paul and Tim ordered one of the biggest breakfasts on the diner’s menu, the farmhouse breakfast. Clearly they were hungry and needed the coffee to perk them up. Liz carefully wrote a note on their bill, almost shaking as she did so.
She even doodled an ax on one side. After she cleared their plates, she put the note in the middle of the table and walked away. When Paul saw it, he started to sob.
The two firefighters from the Mount Holly Fire Department were so stunned by what they read that it took them a while to speak and react. They knew the waitress had been struggling, working the evening shifts and whatever open hours were available just to make ends meet and pay off her student debt.
At first, they thought it was just that. However, they would soon discover that the problems she had at home were much bigger.
It was no ordinary fire they just had to put out. Because it hit a huge warehouse facility, it took their team over 12 hours to finally declare it was over. They ended at almost the crack of dawn and, needless to say, they were all exhausted to the bone.
Tim realized that Paul hadn’t eaten anything yet since they started their mission. This is what led to the decision to drive to the nearest diner.
Liz wasn’t aware that her life would take a 180-degree turn from that day forward. After Paul and Tim saw her note, they posted it on Facebook almost immediately and, soon, it got plenty of attention.
That one post was shared, liked and commented on by the thousands. It had gone so viral on Facebook that people were starting to recognize Liz on the street. What exactly did the note say to make her this famous overnight?
“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.”
“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.
“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.
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.
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!