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This IHOP waiter helps woman with Huntington's disease eat and we're in tears

Upon learning how this Illinois waiter helps a regular customer, the internet's collective heart broke.
/ Source: TODAY

An IHOP server from Illinois is getting lots of attention this week for a good deed he’s been doing for years: helping a customer eat breakfast.

Each Saturday, “Dale and Ma,” as waiter Joe Thomas calls them, come into the Springfield, Illinois, IHOP where he works. As the husband assisted his wife with her utensils, his breakfast would grow cold — until Thomas jumped in to help, saying, “I’ve got this.”

That was five years ago, and Thomas, who has been with IHOP for nearly 12 years, has been helping out the couple ever since. Turns out, the woman suffers from Huntington's disease, a relatively rare inherited disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain, impacting movement and cognition. She is able to eat, say, grapes or apple slices, but struggles with utensils.

Thomas, 44, recently took a couple of minutes out of a busy breakfast shift to talk with TODAY Food: “I have always helped out people regardless of whoever, whatever,” he says.

Way to go, Joe! IHOP server Joe Thomas, left, meets with local franchisee Larry McDonald.IHOP

Compassion is in his nature: Previously, Thomas worked as a rehab technician, helping cognitively and developmentally disabled individuals transition into independent-living situations. He also took care of his mother, who suffered from diabetes, until she passed away almost 10 years ago.

Anyone who’s ever cared for another person who needs extra help knows how difficult the smallest daily tasks can be, which is probably why the internet collectively shed a tear after a photo of Thomas’s gesture went viral this week.

Joe Thomas's fellow IHOP staff members are happy to help out while he assists an elderly couple with their breakfast, customers report.IHOP

Another customer, Keshia Dotson, took the photo after she spotted Thomas’s kind deed recently.

Other tables’ service weren’t impacted while Thomas assisted the elderly customer, Dotson told TODAY Food: Another server even jumped in to check on Dotson’s table “and seemed glad to do so,” she said. “She even commented on how sweet she thought it was of him.”

Because companies only tend to hear when things go wrong, Dotson said she wanted to highlight something good. “My motive in posting the photo was to try and help recognize the waiter to his company,” she said, “I typically try and reach out when I experience or observe good customer service."

In her own life, Dotson works as the adult programs and outreach coordinator for the Rochester Library in Rochester, Illinois, where, she says, the staff strives to have a good impact on the local community.

“We also try and do the same in our personal lives, which is in part what prompted me to take the photo.”

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An IHOP spokesperson, Stephanie Peterson, told TODAY Food that both the company and the local franchisee, Larry McDonald, were "touched by Thomas's kind act," adding, "From everything we've heard about Joe, it is in his nature to go above and beyond for his guests and this gesture simply reflects who he is. As a brand, we are incredibly proud of the heartwarming moments like this that take place in our restaurants every day."

As for Thomas, he's even been approached about a future in nursing since the photo went viral. He’s not quite sure what his next step will be, yet, though he says that he'd love to get back into his work as a rehab technician one day.

In the meantime, he plans to keep helping Dale and Ma, and is glad he has gotten to know the regulars so well. “Oh yeah, we go way back,” he said. “They’re a beautiful couple. Beautiful people.”

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