Sometimes, life deals us hard blows; Dennis Kust probably knew that all too well as he struggled to deal with the loss of his wife. But while Kust was in urgent need of a boost from somewhere, he probably never expected to find it coming for free with his pizza order.
Kust is a 59-year-old widower from Suffolk County on Long Island, New York. His wife, Cheryl, had passed away in 2016 after a lengthy struggle with cancer, leaving him utterly heartbroken and alone. And while understandably finding the loss of his beloved wife hard to cope with, Kust fell into a dark and depressive state.
What’s more, Cheryl had previously spurred her husband on, even when she was in the grip of illness. “You have to be strong, you have to be strong,” she had said, according to an April 2017 report by CBS New York. But as the long days went by without Cheryl, Kust was finding it harder and harder to follow her advice. In fact, he was beginning to seriously struggle.
Still, even though Kust thought that all hope was lost, he kept going – living each day as it came. But as it began, March 25, 2017, did not look like being a good day for him. What would have been Cheryl’s birthday had fallen the previous week and the anniversary of her death was looming. But things changed for the better when Kust headed down to a local pizzeria. Indeed, after the widower arrived, the restaurant staff told him something that blew his mind.
Specifically, Kust was informed that someone had bought a pizza for him; the person in question, though, was anonymous. Confused and touched by this random act of kindness, Kust then headed back up the block with his free pie. But when he got home and opened the box, he saw something that immediately made him weep.
That’s because the pizza box had a secret message written on the inside lid; the words read, “From one family to the other… stay strong” in colorful letters. And Kust was stunned by the incident for two reasons. Firstly, he was amazed that anyone would buy a pie for him as an anonymous gift.
But the thing that choked him up the most was what the colorful note said. The words “stay strong” were comfortingly familiar to Kust – they were close to the phrase that his late wife always used to repeat to him. To the tearful, grieving widower, it felt like a message from above.
“I wasn’t crying because I was sad anymore, I was crying because I felt like I got a message from [Cheryl],” Kust told CBS New York. But the uplifting slogan wasn’t written by his wife. Instead, it was just a message of encouragement from a stranger who also frequented the local pizzeria.
Furthermore, it turned out that Kust’s free pie was one of many. The local pizzeria was Albert’s Pizza in Ronkonkoma, a district of the Long Island town of Islip, and the outlet had recently rolled out an initiative designed to bring smiles to its customers’ faces. It all started just after President Trump’s inauguration in 2017, in the hope of lifting the Long Island community’s spirits and bringing them closer together again.
Politics has always been a contentious issue that can really divide people, and the heated Trump-Clinton election campaign totally split the U.S. in 2016. However, Richard Baer, the co-owner of Albert’s Pizza, came up with a way to ease tensions. And his pie-based initiative was genius in its simplicity.
The idea was that customers of the pizzeria could pre-order a $15 pizza for someone. This could be for persons known or unknown, but each pizza would have one thing in common. The box would have a personal message written on the inside. There were two rules – the note had to be positive, and it had to be non-political. Afterwards, the box could be displayed on the walls of the Ronkonkoma outlet and a picture of the recipient posing underneath it posted to social media.
The scheme started, moreover, with a pizza donated by two of the pizzeria’s employees, who chose to give a pie to a person who was grieving the loss of someone special. The message they wrote inside the box lid read, “To someone who just lost a loved one: Here’s your sign that they’re with you.”
A woman who had just lost her mom was given the free pie with the accompanying heartwarming message from the Albert’s employees inside. And from then on, the “pay it forward”-style pizza initiative really caught the community’s imagination. By February 2017, in fact, more than 70 people had received free pizzas.
The original intention behind the Albert’s Pizza scheme may have been to simply make someone smile; when Kust received his free pie, though, it did a lot more than that for him. Not only did the widower burst into tears when he read the message inside the box lid, but it also changed him in a fundamental way.
In fact, Kust was so touched by the kind gesture that he did something unexpected, and not something the pay-it-forward plan had provoked before. In particular, he composed an emotional handwritten letter to Baer, as he wanted the pizza outlet owner to know what a difference his scheme had made to him. And in it, Kust told Baer that the note inside the pizza box had changed his life for the better.
The letter began, “You don’t know me, but on March 25 you turned my life around.” And in a video posted by CBS New York to YouTube, Baer can barely hold back the tears as he tries to read Kust’s emotional missive to the camera with its author by his side.
As his voice wavers in the clip, the pizzeria man is also seen trying to explain to CBS reporters how satisfying it was to launch an initiative that has brought so much joy to so many people. Baer is so emotional that he is unable to finish his sentence, giving a grateful Kust the opportunity to give him a big hug.
And the heartwarming scheme has certainly got people talking. In fact, it seems as though the uplifting pay-it-forward story has suitably inspired people to be kind to one another. “I love this. Way to go. What if we all did one great thing like this for someone else?” an online user wrote in the comments section of PMQ Pizza Magazine’s website.
At the end of the video of the CBS New York news report, however, Kust has one final message. It’s directed, moreover, to whoever it was that anonymously purchased the pizza with the particularly resonating personal message for him. “I want to thank those who bought it for me and let them know that they saved my life,” he says directly to camera.
All it took, then, was a simple message inside a pizza box for a heartbroken man to realize that not everything is lost when you say goodbye to a loved one. Above all, though, this story reminds us all to show a little kindness to one another, because you never know what other people are struggling through.