In the spirit of Christmas, a group of friends went to Cracker Barrel in Dublin, Georgia with the intention to change one server's life.
Janet Ballard, who has been with the Tennessee-based chain for more than a decade, was enjoying a typical day at work Wednesday when she was assigned a table of 12 for lunch. What she didn't realize was that this group of people would give her an unimaginable gift by the time they finished their meal.
"I connected with them immediately," Ballard, a 53-year-old mom to two grown children, told TODAY Food. "I’m a people person. I start with greeting them and finding out what needs they have, if they have allergies or whether they’re vegan. Everything that they can possibly need or want I try to hone in on those things when I’m taking that individual order."
But it wasn't just Ballard's incredible service that inspired James Deal and his friends to each contribute $100 to her tip. The group of Christian church-goers felt a generous blessing was the right thing to do, especially around the holidays.
That same day, Deal wrote on his Facebook, "What a wonderful day with friends as we celebrate our 1st Annual 100 dollar breakfast. We all gave our waitress Janet a $1200.00 tip. May God have the Glory for all that is done in his name. Merry Christmas Janet!!!!"
According to Ballard, Deal and his friends waited until the end of the meal and then handed her a Christmas card.
"I read the card and it had scriptures on it, which let me know they were good people ... They were very genuine individuals. They were total strangers," Ballard, who was shocked to find it filled with cash, told TODAY.
"Counting the money, I got so choked up by the time I got to $400. They wanted me to count out loud. By the time I got to $400 I was like 'oh my goodness this is really happening,'" Ballard said. "I got so emotional and I don’t really like to cry with a camera in my face, but I didn’t even care at this point. I had 12 total strangers saying, ‘Hey, we care enough about you because of how you made us feel while we were dining and we want to be a blessing to you and your family.'"
Ballard said her prayers were answered, as she needed money to help pay her taxes. She was also able to make her car payment early, which improved her credit score. Ballard didn't hesitate to pay it forward either: After leaving work, Ballard went out for a seafood lunch where she, too, "blessed" her server with a large tip. She then treated herself to a pedicure — again, tipping the manicurist well before the appointment even began.
"Because of the gift of love and caring and sharing I’m able to not only be a better Janet, but I am able to be an example for people this time of year who don’t have hope," Ballard said.