FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — It seemed like as normal a lunch service as any, the jovial 7-top seated just after the doors of Mad Anthony Brewing Co. on Taylor Street opened Tuesday.
The dark-haired waitress took the order. The food came. The plates were cleared. The bill came. It was paid.
Then came something that brought Mad Anthony’s manager Linda Martin to tears.
In the bill jacket with the restaurant’s copy of the receipt, the family left the waitress a $500 cash tip. Members of the family stayed behind to present it to her, and to explain why.
The party was a giving branch of Aaron’s Last Wish, a mission to donate $500 tips to servers, the dying wish of the late Aaron Collins. Martin said Collins’ brother and mother presented Tuesday’s gift, their 101st such tip.
“In his will, the very last thing was that we’d go out to dinner and leave an awesome tip for a waiter or waitress,” Aaron’s brother Seth Collins said. “He specifically said, ‘I don’t mean like 25 percent. I’m talking about $500 for a pizza.’”
Aaron’s Last Wish has visited restaurants and tipped throughout the country over the last two and a half years. Seth said the first video of them tipping a server shortly after his brother’s death went viral. Since then donations have been pouring in, topping $50,000. Often time’s Aaron’s mother, Tina Collins, is there when he hands out the tip.
“It was Aaron’s idea and Seth has made it happen, so well you can imagine how wonderful that is for me,” Tina said.
Tuesday, as Martin said, “it just happened to be here and us.” Seth said he was contacted by a man who lives in Fort Wayne who heard about Aaron’s Last Wish. The man and his family wanted to be a part of one of the special donations and even offered to cover the tip.
“He wanted to make it happen in his town. To touch someone there and to share it with his family because he does have four small children and I think for him it was powerful message that he could share with his children,” Seth said.
Martin said her waitress – Sarah Conrad – at first wanted to refuse the tip, then asked Martin if she was even allowed to accept it (The manager said she replied, “Of course you can, this is wonderful. This is this gentleman’s dying wish.”). With it, she’s planning to pay a bill or two, and buy her grandmother a gift, Martin said.
“I immediately started crying, listening to what’s happening,” Martin recalled. “Then you’re laughing, you’re crying, it’s a wonderful thing. I kept going through the restaurant telling people about the wonderful people in the world.”
It started out with family throwing in what money they had to give a big after a pizza. Now, it’s touching hundreds of lives, including the man who is carrying out his brother’s last wish.
“I never had any idea what it would become. Neither would Aaron would have. He would have been completely blown away,” Seth said. “He would have thought this is just a small thing he wanted to do for a person. For one person and he wouldn’t have expected it to have this long-reaching impact.”
The mission, of course, is to honor Aaron and help other people, but his mother, Tina, said fulfilling his dream is helping her get through every day he isn’t here with her.
“I feel like it’s done more for me than it has anybody because it’s helped me in my grief. It continues to help me in my grief,” Tina said.
Martin said the family promised a copy of the book ‘Aaron Collins Did That‘ they’d written telling the story, even though she didn’t catch their names. They’re friends with her and Conrad and the rest of the Mad Anthony’s staff, though – brought together by selfless generosity and granted wishes.
To learn more about Aaron’s Last Wish, click here.