Kentucky man Aaron Collins, 30, died unexpectedly on July 7 from causes that are still being investigated. In his will he left a particular request: “Leave an awesome tip — and I don’t mean 25 percent. I mean $500 on a pizza.’’
Collins didn’t have the financial means to honor the request, so his family set up a website to help attract donations. Less than two months later, the site has raised more than $57,000 and allowed Collins' brother, Seth, to leave one server a week in disbelief when he hands over a $500 tip following an inexpensive meal. The family's videos of the servers' reactions, posted to YouTube, have gone viral with more than 2.5 million total views.Dying man's wish fulfilled: $500 tip for waitress
“He wanted to do something to help people and to make people happy and just bring joy to people,’’ Collins' sister, Rachel Johnson, told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Tuesday. “He was always about having fun and just bringing joy to other people.’’
“He was trying to think about people who don’t necessarily get a lot of appreciation, but who no one is out there thinking of,’’ his brother, Seth Collins, told NBC News.
Aaron worked at a pizzeria in rural Kentucky, so he knew first-hand about having to survive on tips. Now, his brother gets to experience the emotional outpouring of hugs and stunned reactions when he hands over each tip. He gave the first $500 on July 10 and has given out one per week since then, including one in a diner in Manhattan on Sunday after flying in for the appearance on TODAY.
“It’s been a huge blessing for me just to be able to touch people like that and see their reaction,’’ Seth said. “I’m really nervous going into it, and then as soon as I hand them that money I just get to step back and just let them control the situation and see how they’re going to react. It’s different every time.
“It’s always been disbelief. That’s where it starts. ‘You’re joking, you’re kidding, you’re not serious, right?’ It’s always the beginning. Then it sets in.”Story: Friends have recreated same photo every 5 years since 1982
Jamie Fuller knows the feeling. In a video posted Aug. 8, the waitress at Wick’s Pizza Parlor in Louisville can be seen covering her mouth and fighting back tears after hearing the story behind the tip she got from Seth. She gave $50 of it back to the family for Aaron’s charity and told TODAY Tuesday she put the rest toward taking care of her baby.
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“I thought it was a joke at first,’’ Fuller told Guthrie. “You’re getting through your workday and you’re rushed, and then this guy just hands you $500 and you’re like, ‘What? This doesn’t happen.’ So it’s very shocking. It’s emotional.’’
The spirit of generosity has caught on, and the family has received a variety of contributions to the cause, including $20 from a 13-year-old boy in Massachusetts. They have even heard a story about a passenger in San Francisco taxi who gave the cabbie a $500 tip recently, in memory of Aaron.
"I’m doing a lot better than I would’ve expected, and I think it’s because of this,’’ Aaron's mother, Tina Rae Collins, told Guthrie. “It gives us something to focus on instead of our grief.’’
With enough money to give out more than 100 tips, the family plans on continuing to make Aaron’s wish come true on a weekly basis.
“As long as the good people who are giving the money will keep giving, we will continue to give out the tips,’’ his mother said. “I just want to say how thankful I am because this is not just Aaron’s wish. It’s people all over this country and the world now.”
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