In the wake of a major tragedy, Waffle House employees, neighborhood locals and supportive strangers from across the country have come together in solidarity.
After a gunman shot and killed four people at a Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee, Sunday morning, the Southern restaurant promised to donate 100 percent of its sales over the next month to victims' families.
During a press conference held Wednesday outside the restaurant shortly after it reopened, Waffle House spokesman Pat Warner announced that every dollar made over the next month at the Antioch location will be saved and sent to the families of gunshot victims, both living and deceased.
Appearing with other members of the chain's leadership team, Warner highlighted how the site of the tragedy had become a gathering place for many of the witnesses and family members of victims. Reopening was hastened by its employees who wanted to return to their daily shifts in an effort to cope with the horrific tragedy they experienced.
"Some of them were here even before it was open helping it get set up. It was part of their healing process. When they found out what we were doing with the proceeds they were very excited to help out on that," Warner said.
The store has also welcomed support from the community, mayor's office and local pastors, and will continue to provide grief counselors on site to help those grieving.
"The phone calls, the text messages and the hugs from strangers just being out ... it's just amazing that we've come together as a community," Warner said.
Waffle House also plans to create a permanent memorial to the victims outside the Antioch location. At present, four white crosses donated by Losses for Crosses and several bouquets sit in front of the restaurant in remembrance of the victims.
Warner added, "We're on the road to healing and recovery. That's what the families want. We don't know how long that will take but we'll be engaged with them as long as it may take."
Waffle House has received calls from around the country from individuals asking if their local Waffle House restaurants will also accept donations. Warner said the chain is working on a way for customers in other states to show their support.
James Shaw Jr., the man who was able to wrestle the weapon away from the gunman during the incident Sunday, has since been honored as a hero by the Tennessee General Assembly. On Sunday, he started an online fundraiser for victims through GoFundMe, where anyone can make a donation.
"Here's a guy that deserves a statue," someone tweeted.
Many praised him for doing "such a good thing."
As of Thursday afternoon, the campaign had raised more than $160,000 for victims' families, more than 10 times its original goal.