The routine fast-food transactions at a Syracuse, New York, drive-through are a lot warmer these days. Taco Bell customers are getting hand-written notes along with their burritos and gorditas, simply because one worker there, Kelly Stewart, is tired of hearing about bad news in the world.
For the past month and a half of this harsh winter, the 27-year-old has been writing inspirational messages. She hands the notes out with customer meals at the drive-thru and the front counter.
“We have to pass out these surveys and there’s a blank space on the back. So I figured – just write a little something,” the single mom told CNN.
She’s given out more than a hundred so far.
Some of the notes say “Your life matters!” others say “Keep smiling” and “Earth is beautiful.”
Her note-writing campaign started out with a simple “Happy Holidays” at Christmastime. Then she just never stopped.
Her father, a retired social worker and history lover inspired her to take it a step further and include famous sayings.
She looked up inspirational quotes from people like Groucho Marx, Mark Twain, Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein.
“I try to do three or more different ones a day.”
She included a Vincent Van Gogh quote, because she loves art:
“For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”
And this one from Einstein:
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.”
And from FDR: “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”
Customers smile and tear up
Customers who received the notes began leaving feedback on Taco Bell’s website.
Others shared their thoughts on Facebook. “It really touched my heart,” one comment said.
“It made me stop in my tracks and smile,” said another. Some customers told Kelly directly it made them tear up.
“You never know what people are going through in their lives – a lot of people don’t show it,” said Stewart.
“I started doing it to maybe put a smile on somebody’s face.”
When Stewart told her six-year-old son what she did at work, “he hugged me and said ‘you’re doing a great job mom’ – it just makes me feel good.”
Stewart dropped out of community college after her son was born so she could take care of him.
She was majoring in Environmental Technology at the time and Stewart hopes to get back to school one day to finish her degree when she has enough money.
Paying it forward
Stewart recalls a time a couple of years ago when a random act of kindness came her way.
She needed to pay for a prescription drug at the local pharmacy, but was surprised by the cost.
“It came out to be a really high-priced medicine.” She left the line, then later got a call from the pharmacy telling her that someone overheard and paid for it.
“It made me break down in tears – how nice that somebody did that. There’s good people out there.”
It turns out, she’s one of them.