Unfortunately, many of us have to struggle with harsh life circumstances. Life events that occur can be unexpected and often painful to deal with. While you may try to put on a brave face and keep going, the heartbreak can be too unbearable. This was the situation of a man who lost his wife to a long battle with cancer. A recently widowed man was at a low in his life and was struggling to cope with the loss of his wife. He was depressed and feeling hopeless, when he too received a small act of kindness that gave him a boost. However, he could never have expected where that act would have come from. It all started when the man ordered a pizza.
The loss of his wife
The widower was Dennis Kust who is 59 years-old. He and his wife lived on Long Island in New York until his wife Cheryl lost her long battle with cancer in 2016. Understandably, Dennis was heartbroken at the loss of his wife and was left to mourn. Dennis found it very hard to cope with the death of his cherished wife and he became depressed and lonely as a result.
According to Kust who spoke with a local CBS news station, while his wife was battling cancer she would tell him, “You have to be strong, you have to be strong,” However, Dennis could not take his wife’s advice and he could not manage being without her. Living without her was too painful for Dennis and he began to struggle.
Kust initially struggled day after day, trying to navigate through the loneliness and heartache. Over time, however, Dennis began to get in a routine and slowly improve by living every day of his life as it came. Things were looking up for Dennis until his wife’s birthday passed and the first anniversary of Cheryl’s passing was coming up. Dennis was dreading the day and was beginning to sink back into depression.
Getting a pie
It was on March 25 of 2017 and it did not seem like Dennis would be enjoying his day. The anniversary of his wife’s death was on his mind and he was starting to feel as heartbroken as when she had first passed away. However, the day took an unexpected
turn for Dennis when he decided to go get a pie at his local pizza place. He was about to receive an emotional surprise.
A surprise in the box
While Dennis went up to the cash to order and pay, he was informed that an anonymous customer had already ordered and paid for him. Dennis was grateful but also did not understand why someone would do that. He took his pizza and headed toward home. It was not until he got home and opened the pizza box that the surprise would be revealed. Dennis could not believe his eyes.
When Dennis opened the box, his eyes immediately filled with tears. He never expected to see the message written inside the box. The top of the pizza box read, “From one family to another… stay strong.” The message was surrounded by hearts a cancer ribbon. Dennis was stunned that someone would do something so meaningful and thoughtful for him. He wanted to know who was behind this act of kindness.
His wife’s words
Besides the fact that someone had bought him a pizza, Dennis was very moved by note on the box. As Dennis mentioned in his interview, his wife used to tell him to stay strong before she passed away. The anonymous pizza buyer knew how much these words meant to him and thought it would be meaningful for him to see his wife’s message again.
A message from Cheryl
The message was very uplifting for Dennis who said in a CBS interview, “I wasn’t crying because I was sad anymore, I was crying because I felt like I got a message from [Cheryl].” On the anniversary of her death, Dennis felt like Cheryl was right there with him, comforting him with her hopeful words. He could not believe that the meaningful message came from the pizza shop that he frequented.
As it turns out, Dennis was not the first customer to receive a pizza with a meaningful message inscribed on it. The pizza store was Albert’s Pizza and is located in Ronkonkoma, which is one of the districts of Islip, a town in Long Island. The pizza shop had sent out many other pizzas with messages on the box which made for many happy customers.
What started it?
So what was the catalyst for this small pizza shop to start sending out pizzas with secret messages in the box? It is reported that the shop decided to start to initiative after the inauguration of the current United States president in 2017. The owners thought it would be a could way for the community to come together during a time that they believed was dividing people.
Uniting the community
Political elections are known for being controversial and causing divide and arguments between people who would otherwise get along. The most recent U.S. election was one of these cases and the owner of Albert’s Pizza, Richard Baer, thought that his local community needed to unite and not divide over different political beliefs. This messages in pizza boxes was his way of easing the tension in his local community.
Baer came up with an idea. He made a campaign and allowed customers to order pizzas for other people at the cost of $15. The person buying the pizza could either let the the other person know who the pizza was from or remain anonymous. The commonality tying all of the pizzas together was that inside every box was a message to the person receiving it.
Baer made two rules for the messages. Firstly, it could not be political as he was trying to unite people and not cause arguments. Secondly, the message had to be positive, ensuring that the pizza messages could not be used to hurt people. The pizza shop made a social media campaign out of the idea as the pizza recipient could have their picture posted with them holding the box or hung up on the walls of the store.
The first message
The first pizza was paid for by some of the employees at Albert’s Pizza. They decided to send a pizza to someone who was mourning the loss of a loved one. The employees wanted to do an act of kindness for the person during the painful time they were enduring. The message on in the box said, “To someone who just lost a loved one: Here’s your sign that they’re with you.”
Pay it forward
The pizza was sent to someone whose mother had recently passed away. She was touched by the gesture and the heartfelt message inside the box. After that first pizza was sent, the idea grew until over 70 customers had been sent free pizzas by February in 2017. The shop marked this idea as a ‘pay it forward’ campaign and continued to send free pizzas to deserving people.
An emotional response
The pay it forward idea was growing and making more and more customers happy as they received a meaningful gift. But getting back to Dennis, the pizza he received did much more than just make him smile. After Dennis opened the box, he became very emotional over the message and it caused him to change and do something very unexpected.
An unexpected reaction
Dennis felt so strongly about the gift he had received that he decided to do something surprising. He sat down and wrote a very emotional letter explaining how much the gesture meant to him to the owner of Albert’s Pizza. He put his note inside the box and brought it back to the shop to give it to Richard to Baer.
“You turned my life around”
What was even more unexpected was what Dennis had written in his letter. Dennis wrote, “You don’t know me, but on March 25 you turned my life around.” In an video interview with CBS, Baer read the letter and could hardly stop the tears from falling as he stood next to Dennis.
In the video, Baer attempts to explain how fulfilling his launch of the pay it forward campaign had been. He was so happy to see how positively the messages had affected people and how his idea had turned into something so much bigger than he could ever expected. In the interview, Baer becomes very emotional and cannot get his words out. Dennis intervened and embraced Baer who was overcome with emotion.
The story spread throughout the community and many people became aware of Dennis and Richard. The reaction to the ‘pay it forward’ campaign was overwhelmingly positive and people thought that Albert’s Pizza shop was doing something great. The idea was inspiring the residents of the community to be kinder to each other. An idea that started on the local level was now all over the news and encouraging more and more people.
Talk about the pizza shop was happening not only in the county but even online. A visitor on a website of a magazine dedicated to pizza wrote, “I love this. Way to go. What if we all did one great thing like this for someone else?” It seems as though everyone loved the idea of the pizza boxes with messages.
A message to the customer
Dennis still does not know who sent him the pizza and he decided that he needed to send a message to the person while he was being interviewed. The message meant so much to Dennis and he reiterated this when he said in his CBS interview, “I want to thank those who bought it for me and let them know that they saved my life.”
A small act can make a big difference
A small act of kindness can have a greater effect that anyone could ever know. The message that Dennis received changed his life but the person who wrote it may not have known that would have been the effect. This story is a good reminder to all of us that even a small action that you may not think will have a difference may affect someone for the better and even change their life.
Beyond the pizza shop
The ‘pay it forward’ campaign that was started at Albert’s Pizza has gone beyond the local community and helped even more people. They decided to take the idea further and use it to raise money for a good cause. They have raised $200,000 to go toward an ambulance. It is very inspiring to see how something so small could turn it to something that has the chance to help countless people.