July 19, 2009 in Nation/World

Coffee shop patron’s generosity snowballs

More than 1,450 have bought free cup for next customer
Debra Skodack McClatchy
 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – At 8:05 a.m. on July 6, a 32-year-old mother of two pulled up to the Steamin’ Bean drive-through window and did something nice for someone else.

She paid $3.50 for the 16-ounce latte ordered by the customer in the car behind her.

When that stranger learned about the act of kindness, she did the same thing for the next customer.

And so it has gone for 12 days and counting at the Blue Springs, Mo., coffee shop.

As of Friday, more than 1,450 customers have essentially said: Thanks for the free cup of joe, but I’d like to pay for it and give a free cup to the next guy.

“It’s taken on a life of its own,” said Garin Bledsoe, who owns Steamin’ Bean with his wife, Anne, and partner Lenny Blue. “We tell people that their cup of coffee has been paid for and they go, ‘What? Really? Wow.’ ”

And then they pass the kindness on.

“I just didn’t do it for the attention,” the Grain Valley, Mo., woman who started it all said. “Actually, I did it because I knew I was going to have a busy week at work and I thought that, ‘Well, you never know what their day will be like.’ ”

The woman, who does not want to be identified by name, gives through her church and her favorite charities. And she likes to assist in small ways, like helping someone carry grocery bags.

“It’s nothing I would think about being a big deal,” she said of paying the tab for a stranger.

But it has become exactly that.

“That first day, well, we got to 12, and then it got to 20, and by the time I left we were at 20 to 30 deep,” Bledsoe said. “It took off quick.”

Customers have even donated more than $600 extra, just to make sure the chain keeps going.

Since only a couple of customers have taken free coffee, there are more than enough donations. Bledsoe has given $200 to nearby restaurants in hopes of starting chains there.

And Thursday night, he took some money to a nearby Price Chopper food store. He gave $10 to a grateful woman buying school supplies for her son. He tried to help a man pay for groceries.

“He didn’t want it and then asked if he could give me $10 – and he did,” said Bledsoe.

Perhaps, Bledsoe said, people want to feel good during the recession.

Kyle Christian, who entered the shop Friday for some hot white chocolate, said he isn’t surprised by people’s generosity. He saw firsthand the bigness of people’s hearts when collecting food donations last spring in Columbia, Mo.

The 19-year-old incoming sophomore at Columbia College was helping to supply food to school-age children who were on spring break and normally would have taken part in school free-lunch programs.

“We collected more food than we needed,” Christian said. “It was amazing.”

Jennifer Kincaid, who lives in Lake Tapawingo, Mo., said it has been interesting to watch the effort grow each time she has stopped by the shop.

“I’m sure that lady is surprised to see how far it has gone,” Kincaid said.

She is.

“I heard about it the next day and I was crying,” the Grain Valley woman said.

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