Holiday cheer prompts hundreds to 'pay it forward' at Fla. McDonalds

A 'pay-it-forward' chain of 250 cars at a Lakeview, Fla., McDonalds is yet another example of how kindness can beget kindness.

Keith Srakocic/AP/File
A McDonald's drive-thru in Pittsburgh in 2009. A McDonald's drive-thru in Lakeland, Fla., Wednesday saw a 250-car 'pay-it-forward' chain, as customers opted to pay for the purchases of the cars behind them.

Kindness is so contagious and gratitude feels so good that those taking part in "pay-it-forward" chains at McDonald’s and other drive-thrus across the nation are demonstrating that goodness had a much greater potential for going viral than Grinchiness does.

Florida is the latest epicenter of spontaneous giving chains, harkening back to the book and film “Pay it Forward,” but the phenomenon persists nationwide, spanning from drive through lines to supermarket checkouts to other random acts of kindness.

A Lakeland, Fla., woman decided to pay for her meal and that of the car behind her at her local McDonalds drive-thru last Wednesday morning, sparking a 250-car chain of positivity, according to an ABC News report.

“The thing I find most surprising about this ‘movement’ is that it’s stronger now than it’s ever been,” writes Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of the book “Pay it Forward” and 30 other novels, in an email to The Christian Science Monitor. “The movie is more than 15 years old, the book is about to hit its 16th anniversary. When people began to Pay It Forward in real life, I assumed the publicity (book and movie) was driving it. But what’s driving it now? It seems to have planted its own roots.”

Ms. Hyde writes, “As far as why people do it, apparently it’s in our nature.”

“This was my theory all along, but now it’s been confirmed by scientific studies," she writes. "When people give to us, it makes us more giving,” she posits. “I think when this style of kindness among strangers touches people, it reminds us of something we knew but long ago forgot. I think we are born loving and generous. I used to think we lost that over time, but now I think we just tuck it away out of sight. It’s not all that hard to wake it up in people.”

The author adds, “My message to the people performing kind acts is not too get too wrapped up in the outcome of any given act. Not every seed grows, but if it’s growth you want, planting a lot of seeds is always a good plan.”

Some of those seeds that have grown include customers paying it forward 640 times at a Connecticut Starbucks, 73 times at a Starbucks in Nevada, and most poignantly, Matthew Jackson, who died the one day after paying a stranger's grocery bill, inspired a 'Pay it Forward' Movement in Carlsbad, Calif.

This week, YouTubers Andrew Scites and Justin Stuart, creators of the 2013 viral video “Simple Acts of Kindness” are out in Breckinridge, Colo., playing random Santa to kids they meet on the street with toys donated for the project by

“We have always just wanted to show people that there are different ways to give back,” Mr. Scites says. “You don’t have to have a million dollars to be kind and make someone’s day. You can just buy their food in a drive-thru.” 

According to David Goodwin, executive director of the Pay It Forward Foundation, established in 2000, by Hyde, in 2015 the organization provided more than 3,400 books to communities all across the US, including schools in Florida and more than 35 schools across the country.

“I am always struck at when and where these pay it forward chains happen,” says Mr. Goodwin, a Jacksonville, Florida native, in an email response. “I don’t think people pay for a strangers meal with the realistic hope that it will go one for 5, 6, 7 hours. The kindness chain at McDonalds in Lakeland last week is really exciting. It’s the holidays so some people are more inclined to show kindness like this. There is a certain social phenomenon to it, and many people like the idea of being part of something like this. These is also that element of peer pressure, ‘I don’t want to break the string’ and that’s ok. Whatever makes you show kindness, we will take it.” 

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