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Mom buys birthday cake for a stranger every year in honor of late daughter

/ Source: TODAY

Kyle Jauregui and his family were shocked when they went to pick up his sister's birthday cake from the grocery store, and learned that someone else had paid the tab.

"We were pretty surprised that somebody would go out of their way to do something like this for us," Jauregui, 23, told TODAY.

But this wasn't an entirely random act of kindness: Ashley Santi, a social worker in Scottsdale, Arizona, does it every year on the same date, her late daughter's birthday.

Santi, 33, told TODAY that her 9-month-old daughter died in September 2008 of a traumatic brain injury after a TV fell on her — an accident that left the young mom heartbroken. Through a support group, she learned about The MISS Foundation's Kindness Project, which encourages people grieving a loved one to carry out kind acts in their honor.

Ashley Santi's 9-month-old daughter, McKenna, died in 2008. Courtesy of Ashley Santi

"I started doing random acts of kindness here and there, but then her birthday came, and I wanted to do something extra special," Santi said. "So I thought: I'll pay for a birthday cake for someone else that day. This is my seventh year doing it."

"It's the way we mother our children or father our children," she said of grieving parents who do the acts of kindness. "For her birthday, the littlest thing I can do is pay for a cake for another family since I can't do it myself, for my child."

Every year on Dec. 27, her daughter's birthday, Santi goes to a grocery store or bakery and asks to purchase a cake that's been ordered but not paid for. She tries to get one that's for a child, and every time she leaves behind a card signed "McKenna's mom."

This year her act of kindness went viral after Jauregui shared photos of the cake, and his sister holding Santi's card, on Twitter.

Ashley Santi buys a birthday cake for a stranger every year in honor of her late daughter.Courtesy of Ashley Santi

"We were left pretty speechless," he said. "We felt a lot of love, and we felt really blessed."

A family friend tracked Santi down through The MISS Foundation's Facebook page (Santi is now a volunteer for the organization). She has plans to meet the Jauregui family on Saturday at a restaurant. While Santi prefers staying anonymous when she buys the cakes, she said she's "really excited" to meet them.

"They seem like such an awesome family," Santi said.

Madison turned 11 on Dec. 27, what would also have been McKenna's 10th birthday.

"She felt like she had a guardian angel looking over her," Jauregui said of his sister. "She felt a little extra love on her birthday."

He and his family are also excited to meet Santi.

"She's a pretty amazing woman," he said.

Now they want to pay her kindness forward. "We definitely plan to continue to spread positivity," Jauregui said.