In just one week, four waitresses at different Cracker Barrel restaurants collectively received several thousands of dollars in tips from complete strangers.
Janet Ballard was working at a location in Dublin, Georgia, on Dec. 11 when a party of 13 handed her a card that read, “This gift is given to you as a token of Christ’s love. We wish you and yours a very Merry and Bright Christmas.”
Afterward, they handed her an envelope with close to $1,200.
"They’ve never seen me before. I’ve never seen them before," she told "Good Morning America." "I was blown away."
Ballard says she plans on using the monetary gift to pay taxes on her home, which are due at the end of the year.
James Deal, 60, was part of the group that Ballard served that day. He told "GMA" they wanted to do something kind for someone after they had read a story about a similar gesture in Colorado. Deal and his friends are part of a group called Love in Our Community Coalition, which states its goal is to make their "community a better place to live in for people struggling internally and their families," according to the organization's Facebook page.
The group chose a Cracker Barrel restaurant at random and asked for the best server they had. That’s when Ballard appeared.
Deal says he’s proud to see "the people who have contacted me and stopped me in town saying that they want to do something like it."
A transformative tip
About 220 miles away at a Cracker Barrel in Dalton, Georgia, another server received a generous tip.
Laurie Malcom had been experiencing financial constraints. Her water had been shut off and she was behind on her November and December rent.
Malcom also has Type 1 diabetes. Because she doesn’t have health insurance, she pays for her insulin with cash and sometimes adjusts her medicine to lower doses so she can use it for a longer period of time, something she understands isn’t safe.
On Dec. 10 she walked into work and was told she had a party of 14 ready to be served.
She called them the most calm, content and gentle group she’d ever seen.
"They were just so kind," she told GMA. "The only thing they asked for was a bunch of creamer for their coffee!"
After they finished their drinks and meals, the group called her over. Malcom thought she messed up an order. Little did she know they were about to completely transform her day.
One of the women at the table said they wanted to "give someone a really good Christmas."
"She said, 'In this envelope is $1,460.' And my knees just kind of gave out from under me," Malcom said. "I couldn’t breathe."
With the gift, Malcom caught up on rent, paid for that month’s water bill plus an extra month, did the same with her car insurance, and bought a bunch of insulin.
She celebrated that night by watching tons of movies with her 13-year-old daughter Abby, who was so excited about the tip.
“I came home Tuesday afternoon just breathing easier. To come home and ... to just be able to relax, to just let my brain slow down and not think,” she said.
She wants to tell others it's important to "be kind to the servers."
“We pour our hearts and our lives in that job,” Malcom said. “That’s not just a waitress, that’s a real person that has real life issues also.”
Paying it forward
Along with Ballard and Malcom, two other Cracker Barrel employees were also at the receiving end of random acts of kindness from customers. One waitress in Knoxville, Tennessee, also received a $1400 tip and another in Middletown, Ohio, was surprised when a local guest decided to purchase all of her son's Christmas presents.
In a statement to "GMA," Janella Escobar, a spokesperson for Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, said that after 50 years of employees caring for guests like family, guests are now caring for the restaurant's employees.
"These acts of kindness and gratitude happen in our stores because of the true family-like bond that our guests and employees share, and it’s what keeps people coming through our doors," she said.
And that spirit continues, with the domino effect of positivity beginning almost immediately.
The morning after receiving her tip, Malcom bought a woman coffee and says she hopes to pay it forward in another way to someone in the near future.
As for Ballard, soon after she received her generous gift, she paid for a customer’s meal who joked with her saying she should "share the love."
While the customer tried to stop her from paying, she told them, "You’re a total stranger to me and the guests that blessed me [were] total strangers, so yes, I am sharing the love."