Nine months ago, a homeless man was lying in front of an Outback Steakhouse using his backpack as a pillow.
Poor Kenneth Smith had reached a point of starvation that had him wanting to give up on life.
Thankfully, Laura Hodges, the managing partner of the Fort Worth restaurant in Texas, came at the right time to help.
It all started after a stranger had tapped Kenneth on the shoulder while he was sleeping outside the restaurant to check whether he was alright.
“I said I was hungry, starving, and actually looking for someplace to stay,” Kenneth said in an interview. It’s a struggle he had been facing while living on the streets for the last four to five years.”
The kind stranger decided to buy him a $100 gift card from the steakhouse so he could fill his belly.
And, to everyone’s surprise, that gift card changed his life in unexpected ways.
When Kenneth walked in he met Laura, who immediately told him to put the gift card away. Instead, she offered to feed him for free, every time he was hungry.
“I ended up giving him my business card,” Laura said. “And I’m like, ‘look, I don’t know if you hang out here very often, but if you ever need a meal or anything like this is my card … just come in any time you just need something to eat … we’re happy to help you.’”
Kenneth came into the steakhouse a number of times per week for months, and each time he and Laura got to know each other a little better.
And two months ago, Laura decided to offer Kenneth a job as a busser.
“To me, she’s an angel. She’s an angel from up above,” Kenneth said. “If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t even be here.”
Before his first day at work, Laura bought Kenneth a uniform and toiletries and even covered his hotel costs for one night.
“He was able to get clean and all the good stuff and feel good about working the next day,” she said.
A little after Kenneth started his job, Laura turned to a community Facebook page, asking for recommendations on cheap motels for him.
“I’ve recently employed a homeless gentleman. He is wonderful and works very hard. He tries to pay for a motel room daily,” she wrote in her post. “Does anyone know of a motel close by that rents for less than $60 per night. He is just trying to get a fresh start.”
And just like that, the post went viral. Many people jumped in to help and started donating money, clothes, grooming necessities, and even a bike!
“People just thought it was so great that he was trying and working and [they] wanted to see him do well,” Laura said. “They just started building a relationship with him.”
She also said people were checking in just to meet Kenneth and see whether he was doing well. Kenneth also receives daily letters in the mail. They are either filled with money or kind messages.
“My post literally just asked if anybody had a hotel recommendation. It never asked for assistance, but that’s the direction they took it.”
Laura said that this never would have happened if it weren’t for that kind stranger who gave him the gift card last year.
“She just wanted to do something that helped someone … I believe that is what just started that ‘pay it forward’ mindset,” Laura said.
And now, Kenneth is looking for ways to do something nice for someone else, she said.
“I just think that paying it forward mentality [has] just been abundant … in our world right now and our community,” Laura said.