In 2015, Liz Woodward was waiting tables with a smile at a New Jersey diner. This was a huge accomplishment considering that both she and her family had been through the wringer in the last few years. But she never expected her life to take such a drastic turn after slipping two firefighters a note with a special message. What happened next was unexpectedly shocking.
She Was Working the Night Shift
At the time, 24-year-old Liz Woodward was busy earning a living as a waitress at the 130 Diner in Delran, New Jersey. Waiting tables during the day is hard enough, but Woodward was working the night-shift when two firefighters walked into the diner. Little did either of them know that their lives were about to change that night in the most unexpected way ever.
The Firefighters Looked Tired
Judging from the tired look on their faces, she assumed that they had been fighting a huge fire at a warehouse that had gotten out of hand on the outskirts of North Brunswick. Perhaps their shift had ended and they were looking for a late-night snack before heading home or maybe they were on a short break before heading back to work. Regardless, it was her job to provide service to anyone who walked into the diner, and these heroes were no exception.
They Had Seen the Diner’s Neon Sign
Paul Hullings and Tim Young were driving home when they saw the flashing neon signs of the diner. Realizing they were hungry and could probably use some caffeine before their long drive, they decided to stop for a few moments. Some would say it was fate that led them to Woodward that night. Maybe it was only a coincidence. But the firefighters had no idea how important she was about to become to them.
They Had Just Worked a 12-Hour Shift
Hullings was one of the firefighters sitting at Woodward’s table. He had been struggling to put out a warehouse fire for 12 hours while fellow firefighter Young was in charge of pumping the water to fight the fire. So naturally, the two were worn out. But when they asked for their check, Woodward did something to them that made them quiver with utter confusion. They weren’t sure what motivated someone like her to do what she did, but there was a reason behind her actions.
She Was an Ordinary Gal
At a glance, Woodward looked like a charming young woman with an infectious smile. But despite her sweet nature, the young waitress and her family had been through the wringer. She was one of six in her family, and she was her dad Steve’s favorite. The feeling was mutual, of course! Woodward admired her father so much, and she couldn't help but see the same light in the firefighters' eyes at her table. But what was it about them that reminded her so much of her father, Steve?
Her Dad Was the Coolest Patriarch
As a young man, her dad Steve was part of a bluegrass band and he played stand-up bass. He was also deeply fascinated by motorcycles, which he rode around town. But he made a living running PHH Mortgage’s Disaster Recovery Department. Woodward also recalled how much her dad loved pepper-jack grilled cheese sandwiches and the Philadelphia Phillies. But none of those things compared to the big love he had for his family. Unfortunately, something happened to him in 2010 that wrecked the family.
Her Dad Suffered a Health Setback
Steve suffered a brain aneurysm, which is a type of weakness in a blood vessel in the brain that inflates like a balloon and then fills up with blood. Most aneurysms occur at the base of the skull or the underside of the brain. Once this happens, an aneurysm can leak or rupture, causing severe headaches or in some cases other life-threatening conditions, including death. Sadly, there were no warning signs.
Things Went From Bad to Worse
An aneurysm that hasn’t ruptured generally doesn't cause many symptoms. But by the time it does rupture, it’s critical to get medical attention right away. Fortunately, Steve was immediately taken to the hospital. Unfortunately, he suffered two strokes shortly after his arrival. Steve managed to survive, but he was left quadriplegic. Sadly, the patriarch of the Woodward family had been facing a lot of issues long before the aneurysm burst.
He Had Some Rough Years
2008 was a rough time for many Americans as this was when the economy tanked during the recession. Like many others, Steve ended up unemployed and could no longer provide for his family financially. The two years that followed weren’t much better. To add insult to injury, he racked up quite a number of medical bills during his 567-day stay, split between nursing homes and hospitals. But the horrible situation didn’t have the effect anyone in the family expected.
The First Year Was Tough
The first year after his aneurism was a year of uncertainty for Steve and his family because no one saw any significant improvement on his road to recovery. In fact, he couldn’t do anything without the help of doctors, nurses or a family member. But one day, he decided that enough was enough once he realized that the only person that could change the outcome of his reality was himself. So, he fought and fought hard, but did his determination pay off?
He Regained Some Bodily Functions
It was a long road to recovery getting from where he was to what he wanted to become. Luckily, he had doctors and family members at his side who helped him to slowly regain some of the normal bodily functions we all take for granted like speaking, swallowing, and even forming a thought. But while everyone in his life played a big part in helping him recover, there was one person who helped him more than anyone else.
His Soulmate Was Always at His Side
Liz and her three siblings split their time between school, work and looking after their dad, but Steve’s biggest ally was the person he married. He and his wife Beth had been married for a quarter of a century. And she took the vows "for better or worse, in sickness and in health" to a whole new level by caring for him around the clock. Some people aren’t capable of this level of loyalty, but he had obviously picked an amazing woman to be his wife.
His Wife Was His Rock
Beth went above and beyond the call of duty to make her husband as comfortable as possible, and on top of that, she made sure all the bills were paid and that the house didn’t fall apart. In the end, the matriarch had taken charge and she had done a terrific job so far. But there was one particular thing that Steve needed that would have meant the world to him. Unfortunately, this was something Beth couldn’t help him with.
He Needed to be Mobile
The doctors didn't think Steve would be able to walk again after his stroke. This was a huge blow to him because he had always been a very active man. What he needed now was to be mobile again, and the wheelchair he was working with wasn't enough. Steve wanted to see the world and the one thing that could help him do that was a handicap accessible van. But this was a big problem for the family.
They Couldn’t Afford a Specialized Van
The Woodward clan was still reeling from the hospital bills and the recession. They certainly couldn’t afford to buy a handicap accessible van for their dad with their own money. The average cost of these types of vehicles ran anywhere from $60,000 to $80,000 according to the MobilityWorks website. Even a used specialized vehicle would have set the family back $20,000, and that simply wasn’t possible. Then Woodward came up with a brilliant idea.
She Set Up a GoFundMe Account
Liz recalled hearing about GoFundMe, a site that let people set up a campaign to do their own fundraising for a personal cause. But there are so many people out there who like to scam others out of money that the waitress feared people wouldn’t take her campaign seriously. Then she realized what she had to do to touch people’s hearts and get them to donate the money she needed to buy her dad the van.
She Shared Her Father’s Story
Liz uploaded a couple of photos of her dad to the GoFundMe campaign page she had set up and shared in detail who her father was, what happened to him and why they were asking for help. She even shared how they had rented a van not once, but twice for him after his health issues first occurred and she described how the experience lifted his spirits. She even shared a special family event that Steve couldn’t have participated in without a van.
He Attended His Daughter’s Graduation
Catherine, Liz's younger sister, graduated in 2012, and the Woodward family wanted Steve to be there to see her graduate. His family came up with the funds to rent a specialized van that was wheelchair-accessible so they could take him to his daughter's graduation. As touching as this story was, donations didn't come in as fast as Liz and her family had hoped. Then tragedy forced them to once again rent another specialized van.
Tragedy Brought the Family Together Again
During Catherine's graduation, Steve was able to see many of his extended family members. This brought him great joy and a great deal of laughter as they shared stories of their childhoods. Unfortunately, the next time the family needed a specialized van was for Steve’s father’s funeral.
Even though the occasion was somber, his conversations with other family members made a world of difference for his recovery. Although he wasn’t back to his former self, Steve had improved by leaps and bounds. Sadly, the family was shaken up by yet another tragedy.
The Family Lost Their Home
2008 was a really horrible year with Steve losing his job and suffering from an aneurysm and two strokes. To top it off, he had lost his dad, too. But he had always learned to look at the positive side of things and there were certainly one or two reasons to be happy. His kids were doing well in school. He had a wife who adored him, and he had reconnected with several family members. But 2014 really kicked him and his family while they were down when financial difficulties forced them to lose their home.
Steve Had to Adjust to a New Environment
Steve had undergone some major life changes, many of which were very difficult to adjust to. But moving into a new place was a new challenge for him because the property’s interior was smaller than his previous home and the floors had carpets, which weren’t wheelchair friendly. In spite of this, the Woodward clan didn’t let their situation bring them down. This was a good thing because their lives were about to change yet again, but this time for the better.
She Was Tired But Determined
After a long shift at work, Woodward was exhausted. She was used to this routine, but she somehow managed to do her job with a smile, and there was a reason for that. With every penny she earned, she was helping her family pay the utility bills as well as the numerous hospital bills that resulted from her dad’s condition. But there was something else that made her a rare gem at this diner.
She Was Empathetic
Many people could've put themselves first over anyone else. They might have even had a bad attitude at work with their customers, but Woodward wasn’t like that. In fact, after she noticed the soot on the firefighters' clothes and their tired faces caused by dealing with the fire, she was amazed by their commitment and empathy for those in need.
They Ordered the Biggest Cups of Coffee She Had
One of the first things Hullings did was say was: “I need the biggest cup of coffee that you have.” Then the other man nodded to let her know that he needed the same order. And while she prepared their coffee, she looked up at the TV at the diner that had a news story on about the warehouse fire and that’s how she knew that these firefighters had been at the center of that nightmare.
She Started Doodling on Her Notepad
The news report claimed that the fire that had been raging for hours had finally been put out. Woodward suspected that everyone owed these two men a debt of gratitude. And while they were busy enjoying their coffee and breakfast, she grabbed a notepad and started doodling an ax and writing something down.
The Bill on the Table
When those firefighters sat down at Woodward’s table at the diner, they assumed it was going to be a regular day, but something she did changed that. When they reached out to see how much the total of their bill was, they noticed that their bill was actually a note. At first, they figured that the diner was being robbed and that the note was a plea for help, but that wasn’t the case.
The Note Left Them in Tears
The note read: “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 firefighters looked at each other with watery eyes.
She Had Perked Them Up
Woodward’s words had perked their spirits right up that morning. Afterwards, they waited for her to come by again so that they could thank her. Then they walked out to get some shut eye. At that point, Woodward didn’t expect to see the two handsome firefighters again, but she had no idea that they were about to come to her aid in one of her darkest moments.
They Kept Thinking About the Note
Firefighters Young and Hullings were still reeling from Woodward’s note after their shift ended and even when they went to bed that morning to get some much needed rest. As firefighters, they were working with a weird schedule, so most people’s mornings were Young and Hullings’ evening. When they woke up, they decided to do something for the waitress that had been so kind to them.
Hullings Started Searching for Woodward
That day, the firefighters took a photo of Woodward’s note and posted it on Facebook along with an explanation of how the note came into their possession. They also encouraged other firefighters to visit the 130 Diner, “Such a selfless and kind act. I definitely urge my friends to make a trip out and support the business, and if Liz happens to be your waitress, tip big,” Hullings wrote on his post.
Hullings Brainstormed Ideas
Hullings, who was younger than his firefighter pal, wanted to do something special for the waitress, he just wasn’t sure how to go about it at first. So, he did some brainstorming and quickly realized what his first step should be. He needed to find her online. So, he started looking for Woodward on Facebook. But would he be able to find her?
She Was the One Who Needed Help
After an extensive online search, Hullings found her on Facebook, and what he read on her wall broke his heart. He asked Young to take a look at what the waitress had written.
Soon, both men were caught up with everything that Woodward’s father and the whole family had gone through. That’s when Young took to social media and posted: “Turns out, the young lady who gave us a free meal is really the one that could use the help…” But that wasn’t all he did.
They Understood Hardship
The firefighters understood hardship. They witnessed it every day on the job. But what the kind waitress had posted on her Facebook profile broke their hearts. How had she managed to ignore her own plight to show them kindness? She was obviously a very special lady and they knew that a Facebook post alone wouldn’t be enough.
The GoFundMe Campaign Had Failed to Reach Its Goal
Young also added the link to the GoFundMe page she had set up for her dad Steve. As of July 23, 2015, the campaign had only raised $25,000 since December 2014. While that might have seemed like a lot of money to most, the campaign’s goal was $80,000, and she had a long way to go to get there. If anything, buying that specialized van seemed less likely to happen, but she was always optimistic that the number would go up when she checked. And Young was hoping that his gesture would give her a hand.
Young’s Post Helped a Lot
Three days after Young had shared his post on social media about Woodward and her campaign, everything changed for the better. The GoFundMe amount went up to a whopping $56,000. One anonymous donor even gave $5,000. But how did Woodward react to the jump in the amount?
Well, when she saw it, her jaw hit the floor. But this was only the beginning. As soon as her story gained more social media traction, her goal for her father’s specialized van got closer than she could have ever imagined.
Her Story Went Viral
With the help of Young’s post, Woodward’s story went viral. So, naturally, it wasn’t long before news outlet like ‘Today,’ ‘ABC News,’ and online media outlets like Buzzfeed caught wind of the waitress’s plight and decided to cover her story.
Before long, the firefighters and the waitress had become local celebrities and everyone wanted to interview them. This not only brought attention to the 130 Diner, but also to her GoFundMe page, and that’s exactly what the firefighters had been hoping for all along.
She Surpassed Her GoFundMe Goal
Woodward wondered for months if she would be able to raise the funds to buy her father the van he so desperately needed. There were times when she considered giving up, but thanks to all the media attention, people started donating until the total reached $86,500. That’s $6,500 more than she had asked for. This brought a huge smile to her face and she couldn’t believe that her touching note to the firefighters had been the catalyst for this amazing achievement.
She Left a Facebook Post
Woodward was so happy that she went on Facebook and posted about how human kindness can make a huge difference. “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. " But her story didn’t end here. There was still one more surprise waiting for her and her family that made her life and her father’s life so much better.
She Started Looking at Which Van to Buy
With the money from the GoFundMe campaign, she started researching to see which van would be better suited for her father’s needs. But she never got the chance to decide on a van or even make a purchase. Instead, Mobility Ventures, a specialty car company, reached out to her. They told her that they had learned about what she had done for the firefighters and about her struggles and need for a van. They were so moved by her act of kindness that they wanted to pay it forward.
They Got a Brand New Van
Mobility Ventures told her that she was getting a new MV-1—one of the most popular wheelchair-accessible mobility vans. Woodward couldn’t believe it. This was the best thing that had happened to her and her family in a long time. After all the long shifts, horrible financial struggles, and family problems, she was finally going to give her dad the van that he deserved to go out and explore the world in, and he would never again be confined to the four walls of his home. But that’s not all.
The Firefighters Met Steve
One day, the firefighters decided to pay Woodward and her father a visit and they came bearing gifts. According to ABC’s Philadelphia station WPVI-TV, Hullings and Young not only got to meet the man that had raised such a wonderful daughter, but they also brought him some Phillies tickets. This put a smile on the face of the man who had been stuck in a wheelchair all this time. Now he had a good reason to leave the house and do something other than watching TV.
Steve Watched TV A Lot
Since 2010, Steve spent a lot of time watching television because his quadriplegia didn’t allow him to do much else. And while some people in his condition might just sit in front of the TV staring blankly at the screen, Steve was laughing a lot, particularly when he watched ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show,’ which was his favorite. But never in all that time that he had spent watching the popular talk show did he imagine that he would actually see one of his family members sit next to Ellen.
They Went on Ellen
Like most media outlets, Ellen had heard about Woodward and the firefighters and decided to invite them to appear on her show. She even flew them out to Los Angeles. But Steve wasn’t the only one who was a fan. Woodward had been a fan of her show too, so this was an amazing experience.
While they were there, Ellen showed a clip about Woodward’s diner and some of the interviews the other employees there had done. Much like Oprah, Ellen was known for handing out free stuff on her show and this time was no different.
Ellen’s Generous Gift
Before handing out her gift, Ellen asked the firefighters if they loved eating at the 130 Diner in New Jersey. When they said yes, Ellen told them that a specialty products company called Shutterfly would be paying for their meals for up to five years. Firefighters Hullings and Young couldn’t help but smile at the wonderful news. But what about Woodward? Surely, Ellen wouldn’t have forgotten about her, right?
Ellen Gifted the Waitress Money
Woodward already had plenty of reasons to cry, especially when Ellen praised her for doing such a great job. Then she told her that it was her turn to receive a generous gift just like the waitress had given the firefighters when she paid for their meal. Then, she took out a giant check with her name on it and the amount read $20,000. The waitress immediately broke down with tears of joy. But eventually, she found herself crying for a completely different reason.
His Final Five Years Were Awesome
Steve had spent five years doing nothing except being bed-ridden and missing out on doing the things he loved. But he spent the next five years living life to the fullest thanks to the mobility van that his daughter and the firefighters were able to get him. This allowed him to eat at restaurants, travel, watch sports games, and even hang out at the carnival with his family.
The Woodward Family Mourned One of Their Own
Unfortunately, in 2019, Steve lost his life after succumbing to the various health ailments he had developed over the years. But at least he didn’t spend his final years in misery. If anything, he had embraced life and created some happy memories with his loved ones. This was a small comfort for Woodward and her family who missed him dearly and would continue to miss him for the rest of their lives. But there was a silver lining.
She Quit Her Waitressing Job
Losing her dad was tough. She had plenty of memories of him, and there were times when she wished he had still been around so she could talk to him. But life had to go on and that’s exactly what happened. For starters, Woodward quit her job as a waitress at the 130 Café and is now working in the realty business as a director of agent services. But this wasn’t the only major change in her life.
She Found True Love
Shortly after appearing on Ellen, Liz met Tommy, a man she fell head over heels in love with. They dated for two years before he popped the question, and of course, she said yes. Not long after that, she found out she was pregnant and had a baby boy. Although Woodward’s father had died, he had lived long enough to meet his grandson before leaving this world.
She Didn’t Think It Was a Big Deal
Despite how wonderful everyone thought Woodward was, she didn’t think that her picking up the firefighters’ tab was such a big deal. She had after all, simply paid $15 for their breakfast. She even told WPVI: “I know it’s being remarked on as this extraordinary act. It’s small. It’s a little gesture.” But while she might not have thought it was a big deal, to the rest of the world, she’s one of the kindest souls they had ever met.