Back in 2015, 24-year-old waitress Liz Woodward served two fighters who were just off what could have been one of the hardest shifts of their lives. Before they could leave, she slipped them a note they’d never forget. Liz never expected to hear back from them again, but they’d end up popping back into her life and changing it in a way she never saw coming.
Burning The Midnight Oil
The night of July 23, 2015 started like any other night for Liz Woodward. The 24-year-old was waiting tables on the night-shift at the 130 Diner in Delran, New Jersey. As 5:00 a.m. rolled around, two firefighters stumbled into the cafe and one of them asked for the biggest cup of coffee they had. Seeing as a massive warehouse fire in nearby North Brunswick had been on the biggest news of the day, she automatically assumed that they were coming off one of the hardest shifts of their lives.
One of the firefighters named Paul Hullings had been on the scene for 12 hours trying to put out that fire, while Tim Young, the other firefighter had been pumping water off location. When they asked for their bill, Liz did something that caught the two fighters off guard, and they didn’t know it yet, but her family history had a lot to do with it.
Things Were Relatively Ordinary, To A Point
Upon first look, one wouldn’t expect Liz to be much different from any other 24-year-old in the world. She was a kind young lady who came from a pretty ordinary family of six. Amid everyone in their family, Liz was especially close to her father Steve.
Steve was a man of many passions. He had spent his youth playing stand-up bass in a bluegrass band, would speed around town on his motorcycle and even helped run the Disaster Recovery Department at PHH Mortgage. The man also had an undying love for the Philadelphia Phillies and pepper-jack grilled cheese sandwiches. Without doubt, Steve was the patriarch of the family. However, the Woodward family would change forever in 2010.
The Family’s Reality Turns Upside Down
Everything that was once normal for the Woodward family melted away in 2010, when Steve had a brain aneurysm rupture. This was followed almost immediately by two strokes. Being a fighter, Liz’s dad pulled through, but the once thriving man was left with a case of quadriplegia. The years before his aneurysm weren’t the easiest for Steve. Most of the blame could likely be cast upon the 2008 recession.
As the economy went through some dark times, Steve lost his job and was unable to provide for his family. This was the beginning of a rough time for the family and the aneurysm made things so much worse. After the rupture, he spent 567 days between the hospital and several nursing homes. It was during these days that things began to change for Steve.
Making Some Progress
The first year was a tough one for Steve and nobody knew if he would make any major improvements. He couldn’t do anything for himself. A caretaker needed to be ready to help him with every single task. However, at a certain point, Steve started making some major improvements.
With the help of the doctors, nurses and especially his family, Steve was able to make some serious progress. He began slowly relearning how to function as a normal person. Steve relearned how to think, process thoughts, swallow and speak. While everyone played a part in his recovery, one person in his life played a significantly bigger role.
For Better or For Worse
Amid school and working, Liz and her three siblings helped their dad when they could. The person who really put in the work and was with Steve almost 24/7 was his wife of 25 years, Beth. While many would find themselves retreating in the face of something so serious, she stayed true to her wedding vows.
Not only did Beth stick to her husband’s side, but she kept the family home running smoothly. No doubt most of his progress was due to her dedication. Despite her hardships paying off, there was something that she couldn’t get Steve and having it would make things a lot better for him.
What He Desperately Needed
No one was expecting Steve to ever get up and walk again, but something that would significantly boost the quality of his life would be a handicapped-accessible van. While Steve did have a wheelchair, it rarely allowed him to really explore the outside world that he once loved so much.
Given their current situation, a specialized van wasn’t exactly something the Woodward family could afford. According to MobilityWorks, a website that specializes in handicapped-accessible vans, the average cost of a new specialized van can cost between $60,000 and $80,000. Even a used van was relatively pricey at around $20,000. The concept of the van didn’t seem like a possible reality for the Woodwards, then Liz took charge.
Turning To GoFundMe
Over the years, GoFundMe has garnered quite a reputation for making dreams come true and helping people who find themselves in a bind. Knowing this, Liz decided to test her luck and create a GoFundMe campaign for her father. She spared no details about her dad on the page and went right into the heart of the matter.
She posted an array of photos for her father and gave the masses the scoop on her family’s tough situation. She also remarked that they had rented a van twice in the past for him and it did him wonders. One event in particular proved how beneficial the specialized van was for Steve.
His Daughter’s Graduation
When Liz’s younger sister Catherine graduated in 2012, the Woodward family was not about to let Steve miss out on the event. The family put their funds together and rented a wheelchair-accessible van for the event. To begin with, it didn’t seem like the outside world was drawing much of a response on him, but then something happened.
Steve hadn’t seen much of his extended family in years and rubbing shoulders with them after so long at his daughter’s big day opened him up. He remembered all their names and was even able to recall stories from their childhoods. His immediate family was so happy to see him smile and break out in laughter. After that joyous event, the family again rented the van, but this time for a more somber event; Steve’s father’s funeral, and it had likewise results. Steve’s improvements were soon overshadowed by another tragedy.
The Situation Becomes Thicker
Since 2008, the Woodward family had found themselves going through one trial after the next. First it was Steve who had lost his job and then he lost his independence along with it. In 2014, things went from bad to worse, as the family lost their home to foreclosure.
This meant having to take Steve and move him into an environment he wasn’t used to. The smaller spaces and the carpeted floors only made it harder for them to get him into the wheelchair. Despite things looking dim, the Woodward family and Liz did not lose hope. Little did they know, they were about to run into some good fortune.
The bill that she set down on their table wasn’t really a bill at all, but a touching note that said, “Your breakfast is on me today — Thank you for all that you do; for serving others & for running into the places everyone else runs away from. No matter your role, you are courageous, brave, and strong… Thank you for being bold and badass everyday! Fueled by fire and driven by courage — what an example you are. Get some rest.”
The kind words immediately lit up their tired faces and served as a happy ending to what was a rough day for the both of them. The two firemen thanked the waitress and walked out. Liz never really expected to see them again, however, they’d soon find themselves coming to her rescue.
Spreading Liz’s Good Deed
Tim Young and Paul Hullings didn’t forget about Liz’s note the moment they went to bed after their shifts that morning. Later that day, they took her kindness to Facebook and posted about the heartwarming experience they’d had at the 130 Diner and about the waitress who had made their day. They even made sure to encourage their firefighting friends to eat there.
Paul, the younger of the two firefighters didn’t stop there. As he waited to see if his friend would heed to his plea, he decided to look into what more he could find about the generous waitress. So he turned to Facebook to search for her. The fireman ended finding Liz’s profile and started scrolling. That’s when he saw something that sent his jaw to the floor. As it turned out, there was a lot more to Liz then they thought.
Spreading The News
Once Tim Young, the fireman whom Liz had bought lunch for, read up on Liz’s father’s situation, he knew he that he wanted to do whatever he could to help her out. The young man took to social media and left a post saying, “Turns out, the young lady who gave us a free meal is really the one that could use the help…”
With that, he left a link to her GoFundMe campaign. Up to that point, Liz’s campaign was on a sluggish route to its goal of $80,000. The specialized van that she so badly wanted for her father was still closer to being a far off dream then a possible reality. She’d check it often and see very little changes in the amount. Would the gesture make a difference?
An Unexpected Impact
Up until that moment on the morning of July 23, 2015, Steve’s GoFundMe campaign had garnered $25,000. That sum had been donated since December of 2014 when Liz opened up the page. And while it was a significant amount of money, it was far from their goal of $80,000.
Tim Young’s social media post made a heck of a difference as it brought great exposure to the page. Only three days after he shared her page, it had jumped to the impressive amount of $56,000. One charitable individual even donated $5,000 and chose to remain anonymous. Upon seeing this, Liz was in disbelief. However, the story was about to hit the masses on a much higher level.
Causing A Media Firestorm
It wasn’t hard for news networks to see that Liz’s situation had all the making of a story that would make a touching piece of news. Only a few days after firefighter Tim Young shared her story, it had gone completely viral and was picked up by major media outlets like Buzzfeed, People, ABC News and Today.
Liz and the two firefighters found themselves amid the limelight and were even invited to appear on an ABC News show. The small Jersey diner was full of cameras and the firefighters and Liz were interviewed. Seemed that the tide had finally turned in the Woodward’s favor, as they’d be in for a huge surprise when they checked the GoFundMe page.
An Unexpected Outcome
After months of looking at the GoFundMe and seeing no significant donations, their goal of $80,000 wasn’t only met, but it was surpassed at $86,500. Liz couldn’t believe the chain of events that her single act of kindness had sparked. After years of struggles, the Woodward family finally had a reason to rejoice.
Liz immediately logged onto her Facebook and left a post about the impact that kindness can have. It said, “ Look for those opportunities because they are everywhere. You can make a difference — it doesn’t always have to be an elaborate production or effort- it’s always the little things that have the greatest impact.” Just when she thought that things could get no better, she was met with the surprise of her life.
A Touching Donation
Liz immediately started looking into a van that was the perfect fit for her dad. However, before she could even make a purchase, she was contacted by a specialty car company called Mobility Ventures. They had heard about the exchange between Liz and the two firemen and were inspired to do a kind act themselves.
They decided to donate to the family, a brand new MV-1, one the hottest wheelchair-accessible vehicles on the market at the time. Liz was moved to tears by the donation, but the goodies would keep coming. Liz would soon find herself talking to one of the biggest public personalities in the country.
The Appearance Of A Lifetime
Since rubbing shoulders with quadriplegia in 2010, Steve hadn’t been able to do much besides lay down and watch television shows. While this would probably eat away at some, Steve would always laugh out loud at what he’d watch. One of his favorite shows just happened to be The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
With that, you could have only imagined the Woodward’s shock when Liz and the two firemen were invited to fly out to Los Angeles and appear on Ellen’s show. For Liz, who had always been a fan, it was a dream come true. Their segment on the show featured a video about the diner and some interviews. It was during the end of the show that Ellen would present them with something that would bring tears to their eyes.
Ellen’s Gift To Liz
Ellen first turned her attention to the two firemen and asked them if they like eating at the 130 Diner. When they said that they did, she dropped a bomb on them that Shutterfly, a company that specializes in specialty products, was going to be paying for all of their meals for the next five years. They couldn’t believe what they were hearing.
When Ellen turned to Liz, it appeared that the young lady was already teary-eyed with emotion. Ellen told her that she had done a fine job of paying it forward to others and now it was time that some pay it forward to her. She then brought out a giant $20,000 check. Liz instantly burst into tears of joy. While everyone was happy in that moment, the Woodward family would soon find themselves amid another hardship.
Steve Says Goodbye
Steve had spent five years laying in bed and missing out on all the wonderful things happening outside. However, the past five years had been joyful ones. He finally got the specialized vehicle he had been hoping for and was once again able to live life. He went to carnivals with his family, restaurants and hopefully even a Philly game or two.
Sadly, in 2019, Steve would leave this world and all the good memories behind. However, he at least lived life to the best of his ability during his final years and smiled quite often. As he passed on, the Woodward family mourned, but also welcomed a new edition into the mix.
What’s Going On With Liz Today
In the years that have come and gone since 2015, Liz’s life has changed quite drastically. Firstly, she is no longer waiting on tables at the 130 Cafe. Today, she is currently working as a director of agent services at a real estate agency. However, the news regarding her gets much bigger.
Since appearing on Ellen, Liz has met the love of her life, a man named Tommy. After two years of dating, the two have tied the knot and have had a child of their own. While her dad did pass on, she was very happy that he got to meet his grandson before saying goodbye.
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