Two New Jersey firefighters, exhausted after a 12-hour call-out, stopped off at a diner for a 6:00 a.m. caffeine hit. To their surprise, however, their waitress picked up their tab as a mark of her gratitude for their thankless courage. And although she hoped to raise nothing more than a smile from the two men in return, the gift that they gave her back would be life-changing.
This particular event occurred on Wednesday July 22, 2015. The waitress in question was pouring coffee for the two firefighters when, by chance, she overheard them talking about a particularly tough blaze that they had just tackled.
In fact, the two men had been on call when, at around 2:00 a.m., a ferocious fire had ripped through a warehouse in North Brunswick. The raging inferno was so fierce that firefighting teams from five surrounding counties had to be called in to contain it.
And fearless firefighters Paul Hullings and Tim Young had been working tirelessly to tackle the massive blaze all night. Now, exhausted and hungry from their 12-hour shift, they stopped off at a nearby diner on their way home.
Young had been intending to treat Hullings to a much-needed breakfast at the 130 Diner in Delran. And as the pair discussed the difficult night they had endured, they unknowingly gained a fan in the waitress serving them.
That waitress was Liz Woodward. Having caught parts of their conversation, Woodward wanted to show her appreciation for their tireless work. And so when the pair came to pay, they opened the check to find a doodle and a hand-written note.
The heartwarming note read, “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… Thank you for being bold and badass!”
Touched by her warm and selfless gesture, Hullings and Young thanked the waitress and went on their way. But afterward, Young decided to share Woodward’s note on Facebook and encouraged his friends to “tip big” if ever they were served by her at the diner.
And the story wasn’t to end there. By chance, Young learned that the person who could really use a kind gesture was actually Woodward herself. Indeed, the waitress had been working hard to raise money for her handicapped father.
Certainly, in December 2014 Woodward had started a GoFundMe page hoping to raise money to give her father “the gift of mobility.” The firefighters learned that since 2010, her father Steve had been paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.
It all started in June of that year, when Steve Woodward was admitted to hospital with a severe headache. Doctors at the hospital discovered that Steve had a ruptured aneurysm on his brain. He then suffered two strokes, and he has been quadriplegic ever since.
On her GoFundMe page Woodward wrote, “My father lost his job during the economic recession in 2008, lost his independence in 2010, and we lost our home to foreclosure in 2014, but we refuse to lose hope!”
After spending more than a year and a half living in medical and nursing facilities, Steve was finally able to return home. But unfortunately, due to his physical limitations, he had to remain bed-bound and unable to see the outside world.
Due to the severity of his disabilities, Steve was also unable to attend family gatherings and celebrations. In fact, his wife and four children would have to share their holidays and family outings with him as best they could using the videos and photographs they’d recorded on their smartphones.
After four and a half years of constant care, the chances of Steve being able to walk again seemed impossible. And come Christmas, all he really wanted was even the smallest form of mobility.
The family were able to hire a van for Steve on only two occasions: once to attend his father’s funeral, and again for his daughter’s graduation. Once, when asked what having his own van would mean, Steve replied, “I wouldn’t be a prisoner of this hospital bed.”
And so, Woodward started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Steve’s very own mobility van. And because of her own generosity in buying breakfast for the firefighters, she found her kind gesture returned when the two men encouraged their friends to donate.
At first the family’s target was to raise $17,000 to put toward a second-hand van. But by the end of the day, Woodward’s story would make the news, and it wasn’t long before she had raised four times her original target. Now, the family even had enough for customized wheels.
To date, Woodward has raised more than $86,000. And for Steve, there was an added bonus last July when the firefighters paid him an emotional visit and handed him tickets to see the Phillies. “We’re not just firefighters,” Hullings told WPVI. “We’re also caring people.”
“All I did was pay for their breakfast,” Woodward said to WPVI. “The message is to be kind to each other, to pay it forward when you can. Even the smallest gestures can change somebody’s life.”