Contagious Energy: June's Random Act of Kindness


A free cup of coffee may seem like a small thing, but it can make someone’s day when it’s given as a random act of kindness. At coffee shops and drive-through restaurants across the country and around the world, “paying if forward” with coffee is become a hot trend. This simple act of kindness reminds us that even the smallest gestures can bring people together and help us remember to look out for each other.

In 2012, NBC’s Today Show reported on a South Carolina café called the Corner Perk where customers regularly donate money to be used for drinks until it runs out. The tradition was started in 2010 when a customer left the first $100 bill to be used for people that follow. Before long, customers who had been treated to coffee began to make their own donations. None of the donors leaves their name or expects to be thanked, but they are serving as an inspiration to Corner Perk customers and the community.

Yahoo! News recently reported on another coffee shop where paying coffee forward has taken off in a big way. A few days before Christmas in 2012, a customer at a Tim Horton’s restaurant in Winnipeg, Canada decided to pay for the order of the next person in line. This random act of kindness was continued by 228 subsequent customers. For three hours, the contagious energy of generosity was experienced firsthand by complete strangers who became part of something extraordinary. According to manager Tony Thompson, there was a huge amount of energy in the store that day among customers and employees as everyone tracked the growing number of pay it forwards.

Paying forward for coffee is not a new concept. In Italy, caffe sospeso is the term used to describe the practice of “suspended coffee.” People buy an extra coffee or two when they pay for their coffee and the “suspended” cups are saved for those in need. Italian cafes use coupons or tokens to keep track of suspended coffee; they may also post a sign in the shop window to tell those who can’t afford to buy a cup that a stranger wants to lend a helping hand. The suspended coffee movement has taken hold and spread from Italy around the world. Evidence of the idea’s popularity can be seen on Facebook, where the Suspended Coffees page has received more than 86,000 likes.

The power of paying coffee forward is greater than the value of the free drink that someone receives. This simple act of giving has the potential to inspire a multitude of other acts of kindness. If you’re looking for inspiration, the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, a nonprofit that was established in 1995, has compiled a database of random acts of kindness stories and a list of random act suggestions. The foundation also includes research on its website about the positive effects of kindness on the giver. Scientific evidence shows that kindness impacts the brain, heart and immune system, and may even be an antidote to depression. When we are kind, we may be helping ourselves as much as we help others.

Photo by Moyan Brenn