It’s a markedly simple sign, but perfect for the important task it serves: offering promise and comfort to those who engage with its message. It’s a whiteboard, hung inconspicuously in the back of Gus’ Coney Island restaurant, a downtown Mount Clemens mainstay for the past 43 years. In fact, if you don’t sit on the left side of the restaurant, you would never even know it was there. But there it is hung, on a wall in between the men’s and women’s bathrooms, under the three letters, PIF, which stands for Pay It Forward. The whiteboard lists a set of instructions for participating in the Pay It Forward program first implemented at the restaurant right before Christmastime. The bottom of the board has the quote: “A simple act of kindness can make a tremendous impact on a person’s life.” A passage from the Gospel of John as well as “It’s a good day to have a good day” are also written on the board for inspiration.
But the most important contents on the board are the small pink Post-it notes. As a first-time participant of the Pay It Forward program, I am surprised by the amount that is up there, probably at least 15 or so. Each Post-it represents a meal that someone in need can pick up and use to get a free meal if they’d like. Gus’ patrons have the option of buying four different types of meals for customers in need:
- $2 for a hot or cold drink
- $5 for breakfast
- $5 for a coney dog and a drink
- $10 for dinner and a drink
The transaction is made at the register; the cashier stamps a pink Post-it with the meal you have purchased and it is placed on the Pay It Forward board for someone to pull off and use if they need to. Each ticket is valid only for dine-in orders and for no longer than 24 hours.
Heather Newman, a manager at Gus’, said the idea came from a customer who wishes to remain anonymous. She added there were a few kinks in the plan at first, but now the program operates smoothly. Gus’ is continuing the program “indefinitely” because of its success.
“It is a good thing for the community,” she said.
When I first read about Gus’ Pay It Forward program around Christmastime, it piqued my interest. I had been looking for a way to give back to the community. I have been blessed, in particular, with a wonderful last two years – marrying a wonderful man in 2014 and subsequently making my first trip to Europe and then having my first baby – a handsome, happy now 7-month-old boy, Xavier, who lights up my world. I had the best Christmas in 2015 I can remember experiencing probably since I was a small girl who still believed in Santa. My cup was full, and I had experienced plenty of good karma and lucky breaks my way recently. It was more than time to give back.
Gus’ Pay It Forward program seemed like a great, simple way to give back to the community, and it was a block away from where I worked five days a week, making it impossibly easy to participate. It was the perfect way to get back in the groove of giving. However, Christmas came and went and I never visited the restaurant. Same with the month of January. I got busy again, just like everyone else. But then someone I was close to had a spate of bad news, then someone else. Both quick reminders that life is so fragile and really can change in an instant. It was time to take this giving back thing much more seriously.
Determined to make this lunch happen, I sketched out a specific day and time on my calendar, asked my co-workers to cover for me, texted one of my bosses to ask him if he’d like to come with me (my treat!) and off we finally went. I picked this boss to go with because he has been my mentor for over four years now. There is quite simply no one’s opinion I value more when it comes to media, a field he and I are both bonded by. I appreciate him for that and he should know that from time to time. Plus, he’s Mount Clemens-born and bred so I knew he’d love the opportunity to give back to his local community too.
We both ordered bowls of soup and salads, generously made, and at the end of the meal, I contributed to the Pay It Forward program by buying a dinner and drink combo while my boss paid for a breakfast and a coney and drink combo. Between the two of us, one individual in need could be covered for every meal in one day if need be. It felt good.
I am planning on using the Pay It Forward program at Gus’ as a launch to making 2016 a year of giving for me. I encourage you to do the same.
Sarah Cormier works for the Macomb County Executive Office, often contributing to the Make Macomb Your Home blog.