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Birmingham area coffee shop customers perform random acts of kindness, pick up other's tabs
Press Coverage

Sharon Dierking was at a Starbucks on U.S. 280, placing an order for a mocha frappucino. When she pulled up to the window, the barista told her the driver in the car ahead of her had paid for her order.

"I was completely dumbfounded," Dierking said, "but I was thrilled."

Dierking wanted to return the kindness to another, but her car was last in line. A few days later, she was able to pay it forward at a Starbucks in Inverness.

"It makes you feel good and it brightens your day," she said.

Random acts of kindness are popping up at Birmingham area coffee shops, as customers are anonymously picking up others' tabs.

Stacie Elm, a barista at an Alabaster Starbucks, said a line of five cars recently paid it forward. Customers are in a bit of disbelief when they discover their order has been paid for, she said. "Most are like, `You're kidding.'"

But the shock gives way to generosity as people are compelled to pass along the kind gesture.

Baristas at Starbucks shops in eastern Birmingham, Hoover and Vestavia Hills also reported episodes of paying it forward - actually, backward, since the person in the front car paid for the person's order in line behind him.

A Starbucks spokeswoman said the Seattle-based company promoted a Cheer Pass program in 2007, designed to remind customers to spread kindness. However, the pay-it-forward phenomenon is "consumer-driven," she wrote.

And kindness comes in more forms than a cup of coffee. Dierking said she saw the practice once at a grocery store when a stranger paid for groceries that a woman could not afford.

The Pay It Forward Movement was launched in 2000 by Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of the book "Pay It Forward." The phrase refers to the concept of repaying kindness by doing kind things for other people....

Birmingham News