Alyssa O'Neill never got to have the pumpkin spice latte she asked for
After her death, her parents bought 40 lattes for strangers
That act has grown via Facebook into a worldwide pay-it-forward movement
Alyssa O’Neill sent a text to her mother earlier this month asking her whether she would take her to get a pumpkin spice latte the next day. Although her mother agreed, Alyssa was never able to try the drink.
On September 4, the morning she was supposed to get the treat, the 18-year-old died of an epileptic seizure.
“We were just shocked at the sudden loss and didn’t know what to do,” her father, Jason O’Neill, said. “So we tried to fulfill the one thing that she asked us. If Alyssa couldn’t get a pumpkin spice latte, we would get them for other people and try to pass the kindness forward.”
O’Neill had no clue how many people this random act of kindness would affect.
Two days after Alyssa’s funeral, the O’Neills went to a Starbucks in Erie, Pennsylvania, where they live, and purchased lattes for 40 strangers. O’Neill asked the manager to write the hashtag #AJO with a purple marker on each cup.
According to O’Neill, the manager and employees, overwhelmed with the gesture, donated 50 drinks on top of the 40.
“It just kind of exploded at that point. We had somewhat of a following, but nothing like this,” he said.
Now the movement to raise awareness about epilepsy has gone beyond lattes.
“It was just random acts of kindness. People have been paying others’ Christmas layaways and buying meals,” O’Neill said. The Facebook memorial page AJO Forever in our Hearts has more than 28,000 likes.
O’Neill said his daughter’s initials have nearly turned into a verb. “People are saying, ‘I got AJOed this morning,’ ‘Have you AJOed today?’”
From Erie to Sri Lanka, the O’Neills have been receiving photos showing #AJO.
The family knew of Alyssa’s seizure disorder before the fatal episode.
Alyssa was a high school cheerleader who hoped to become a nurse and help others with epilepsy. She was a first-semester student at Penn State Behrend.
The O’Neills started the AJO Forever Fund to assist families of children with epilepsy and to bolster a scholarship fund for local cheerleaders looking to go into nursing.