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 1:18 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
This is how the two U.S. aid workers infected with Ebola will be evacuated from west Africa.
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
While aspects of the fighting in Gaza resemble earlier clashes, this time feels different, writes military analyst Rick Francona.
updated 2:29 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
How did al Qaeda recruit a former Florida high school footballer?
updated 7:08 AM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Flowers, a teddy bear and the smells of jet fuel and death haunt the MH17 crash site.
updated 11:54 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
If India and the U.S. were Facebook friends, the relationship between them would be "complicated." Can John Kerry's visit change that?
This looks like a ghost ship, but it's actually the site of a tense international standoff between the Philippines and China.
updated 8:48 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Sure, Fido is a brown Lab. But inside, he may also be a little green.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Photograph of an undisclosed location by Patrycja Makowska
Patrycja Makowska likes to give enigmatic names to the extraordinarily beautiful photographs she shoots of crumbling palaces.
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.
updated 2:35 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Take a look inside Airbus' new -- and surprisingly quiet -- A350XWB.
updated 11:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
What're you doing after work today? If you lived in these cities you could head to the BEACH!
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT