Indiana woman Sarah Owen Bigler was being thoroughly inconvenienced in a branch of one of the most popular convenience stores in the U.S. in early 2016. One particularly awkward customer in her queue for the till was holding things up. As a busy working mom, Sarah was on the verge of getting severely agitated – she had things to do and places to be. But then she stopped and listened to what was going on between the lady in front and the cashier, and it altered things for the harassed parent. Later, Sarah took to the internet to tell people exactly how much it meant to see and hear a young man be the change he wished to see in the world. And it appeared that a large portion of the online world loved hearing it.
Sarah lives and works as a high-school teacher in Indianapolis, IN. The 37-year-old’s family consists of husband Matt, 35, and their daughter Eloise, five, and son Archie, four. But things were different in January 2016, with the kids being so much younger. This was when Sarah was out grocery shopping with her two tots and witnessed something truly remarkable. And when the young mom shared the story online, it went totally viral.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016, was just a regular day for the Bigler family. Another ordinary day of work and school and childcare – apart from one thing. Husband Matt was sick, and so Sarah had both kids in tow after work when the mom realized she needed some things for the house. As a consequence, she swung by a Target outlet in nearby Glendale with Eloise and Archie in order to pick up a few items. Considering she had two toddlers with her, Sarah was hoping that the trip would be simple, straightforward and above all swift. But unfortunately, that would not be the case.
Once the busy working mom had successfully raced to grab everything the family needed from the Target shelves, she was faced with another challenge. Sarah needed to locate the line with the least amount of shoppers in it. No doubt she was delighted to spot a cashier with only one person ahead of her in the queue. The teacher started laying all her items on to the conveyor belt, but her delight would soon turn to despair.
Little did Sarah know at that point, but she had chosen the worst possible line if her goal was to get out of the store quickly. That was because the customer in front was an elderly woman who was not moving so fast. And when Sarah realized what was going on at the till and the reason for the slowness, her heart sank. She knew that she would be stuck in the Target queue with her tired and irritable children for quite a while.
Frustratingly, the elderly shopper was attempting to pay for her grocery goods with change from her purse. Not only that, but the woman was also trying to buy each item separately. The sight of this inconvenient eccentricity was almost enough to push Sarah over the edge. After all, she had been at work all day and was in a rush to get her kids home and on with the evening routine. Indeed, it appeared young Archie was of a similar mind and was having what Sarah later described as a “melt down” in the shopping cart.
However, the stressed-out mom then paused and witnessed something which stopped her thinking about herself and her pressing family schedule. The teacher could not help but notice how the cashier was treating his elderly customer. The Target employee was a young African-American man and Sarah felt that the way he was talking to the old woman at the head of the queue was quite remarkable.
The man was doing his best to help the elderly shopper with her individual purchases. Sarah watched as he painstakingly counted out the pennies with the old woman, and later described how he was “tenderly taking it from her shakings hands.” And the cashier apparently treated the aged customer with respect throughout. Sarah said that she heard him continually deferring to the woman by calling her “ma’am.”
At one point in the proceedings, the customer requested a recyclable bag. This involved the employee having to pause the ringing through of her individual items to go and grab one from another till but he did not complain. Nor did he grumble when he calmly removed her purchases from the original carrier and packed them into the new bag without a hint of frustration.
Sarah listed all of the cashier’s behavior during this touching interaction in a social media post she made the following day. “Never once did this employee huff, gruff or roll his eyes,” the teacher reported on Facebook. “He was nothing but patient and kind.” And once the elderly woman had finished her shopping and moved off, Sarah – despite being up against the clock with childcare and other responsibilities – took the time to speak to the employee.
It turned out that the till man’s name was Ishmael Gilbert, and at the time he was just 19 years old. Incredibly, Sarah learned that the capable young man had only started working at Target a few days earlier. Nevertheless, the working mom was so impressed with Ishmael’s professional and personal approach to customer service that she thanked him warmly for his beyond-the-call-of-duty efforts with the elderly shopper.
Not only that, but Sarah decided to take some more time out and spread the word a wee bit higher up the command chain. Indeed, the teacher made it her mission to locate the Glendale Target store manager. She wanted Ishmael’s boss to know how incredibly kind he had been to the elderly shopper. Once Sarah had made her excellent report, she left the outlet with her kids, her groceries and “a heart full of gratitude for such an invaluable lesson.”
In fact, Sarah used that exact phrase when she decided to write and share the story online the day after the exchange. The mom of two posted a detailed description of what had happened to her on her Facebook page, and it soon attracted lots of likes and shares. People showered the Target employee with praise. “The world needs more people like you and Ishmael,” one of Sarah’s followers commented. Another claimed to have visited the Glendale store to thank him in person.
But to accompany the post about Ishmael’s kindness and compassion, Sarah also shared a photograph of the heartwarming scene. The image shows the Target cashier in the act of patiently dealing with his elderly customer. The Bigler’s young daughter, Eloise, is also shown in the picture. The little girl is peering over the conveyor belt and taking it all in.
And it turned out that this was something Sarah was particularly grateful for. The young mom’s post described how valuable she felt it was for her infant daughter to witness such “kindness and patience.” Not only that, but the teacher admitted that seeing Ishmael’s selfless actions that day formed a “valuable lesson” for herself as well.
But while the story was busy going viral, Ishmael was nonetheless still none the wiser. At least that was the situation until the young man received a call from his girlfriend, urging him to log on to his Facebook account. When he did so, Ishmael was met with a flurry of positive messages sent by well-wishers from all corners of the U.S. By now, Sarah’s original post had seen its likes and shares climb into the tens of thousands. Referring to all the attention, the Target employee admitted to Indianapolis-based Fox 59 News, “It’s been amazing.”
Nevertheless, Ishmael insisted that he had not been making an extra special effort for the elderly woman in his store that day. In fact, despite being so new to the job, the cashier told the news program that the way he dealt with her was standard behavior for him. Ishmael told the cameras, “I treat everyone with the same respect…”
“… And I get it back in return,” the Target man continued. And while Ishmael was pleased to be recognized for doing a good job, no-one was more proud than his mom. Amiee Smith Gilbert, 40, wrote a subsequent post on her Facebook page praising her son for his positivity. She added that this was her family’s way, saying, “I have always tried my best to raise my children to respect everyone no matter their race, age or gender.”
And this guiding principle was exactly what Ishmael himself intended to pass on to his then one-year-old child. “It felt good because that’s the kind of example I want to be for my daughter,” he told U.K. tabloid the Daily Mail later that January. And judging by the response to Sarah’s story online and further afield, there can be little doubt that Ishmael’s humanity has inspired others around the country.
Plenty of people in Sarah’s stressful position would have been too frustrated and distracted by the delay to stop and notice the wonderful way in which Ishmael was helping the elderly customer. But now that the cashier’s story of kindness, compassion and courtesy is out there, it is to be hoped that others follow Ishmael’s inspiring lead. Sometimes, it seems, you can be the change by simply taking the time out to count it.