Skip to main content

Stranger pays for 'special' family's dinner, leaves touching note

By Justin Lear, CNN
updated 1:41 PM EDT, Wed September 4, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ashley England was having a difficult time with her special needs son at a restaurant
  • A stranger paid for their meal and left a note that touched her deeply
  • She posted the note on Facebook, and it has been shared by thousands

(CNN) -- A dinner out turned into an experience of a lifetime for a North Carolina family thanks to one stranger's heartfelt gesture.

Ashley England and her family want to thank a customer who paid for their meal Friday night and left behind a touching note about their special needs son. A photo of the note has gone viral, shared with thousands of people on Facebook.

England told CNN her family, including husband, Jason, 8-year-old son Riley, 4-year-old brother Logan, the boys' grandmother and their great-grandmother were together at the Stag & Doe restaurant in China Grove, North Carolina, for a family meal when their special needs son, Riley, started to get frustrated. He was hungry and couldn't get the Netflix on his mom's phone to work.

The waitress, the autistic girl and the broken hamburger

Riley, 8, suffers from epilepsy and is non-verbal.
Riley, 8, suffers from epilepsy and is non-verbal.

Since Riley suffers from epilepsy and is non-verbal, England said, it's hard for him to communicate and he screams and acts out when he's frustrated. England said he started to make screaming noises, beat on their table and threw her phone, catching the attention of some nearby customers.

Although a few customers were looking, it wasn't the worst experience her family has had out in public since Riley's condition was diagnosed when he was a toddler, England said. But she was frustrated, she said, and in the past few weeks it has been really tough controlling Riley's behavior.

So what happened next was just what the family needed.

Autism, dining out and a side of kindness

As their waitress was delivering food to the family's table, England noticed another waitress, Tonya Griffin, walk up with a few tears in her eyes. She passed along a message from another customer that the England family says they will never forget.

Griffin told the family, "your meal's been paid for and he wanted me to give you this note." The note written on a customer's order slip read, "God only gives special children to special people."

The England family.
The England family.

England told CNN the gesture was really needed and it made her cry. "I just broke down, the past month has just been so hard."

She added, "He just doesn't know what we've been going through and how much it was needed at the moment."

When England updated her Facebook page about the family's experience Friday night, she ended it with this message: "Dear stranger, thank you for giving me a blessing tonight in a way you will never know."

England says she will be back at the restaurant when it reopens Wednesday -- its hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday -- in hopes she can find the man to thank him personally.

Canadians paying the coffee forward -- by the hundreds

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:23 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wilson Raj Perumal tells CNN how he rigged World Cup games: "I was giving orders to the coach."
updated 4:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
He should be toddling around a playground. Instead, his tiny hands grip an AK-47.
updated 12:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
CNN's Will Ripley travels to North Korea, visiting an international wrestling festival and a slide-filled water park, said to be a pet project of secretive young leader Kim Jong Un.
updated 5:20 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Our whole solar system appears to be inside a searing gas bubble, scientists say.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
In a raid on a luxury apartment complex in France, agents caught up with Ibrahim Boudina, a French-Algerian man they accuse of bringing back Syrian-schooled terror to Europe.
updated 8:02 PM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
One journalist murdered, another still being held by ISIS -- a ransom negotiator talks to CNN about the delicate business of trying to get a hostage home alive.
updated 10:02 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
The accidental killing of a gun instructor raises an "absurd question," writes Mel Robbins.
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Was a police officer justified in shooting and killing Michael Brown?
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Don't like the country you live in? Meet the people who created their own "micronations."
updated 5:46 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
We asked you what you would like to know about Ebola. Experts answer some of your most common questions and concerns.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT