What started as a simple act of kindness Thursday, Sept. 13, ended with a presentation of gifts and thanks for Brandon Stephenson. Stephenson, Pittsburg resident and Taco Bell employee, worked a normal front-counter shift Thursday when a local homeless man walked into the restaurant, changing both their lives from there as Stephenson lent the man a helping hand.
“He made me see there are good people in the world,” the homeless man, known only as Daniel, said. “I came in to just use the bathroom and this nice man … he helped me.”
Stephenson asked Daniel to sit down, then served him two frito burritos, which he had paid for out of his own pocket.
“I think everybody should be helpful to everybody,” Stephenson said, “Because a lot of people are just down on their luck.”
Stephenson didn’t stop with the gift of food. After he bought the man dinner, he sat down to visit and get to know him while he ate.
“Brandon bought him his food,” Jocelyn Donegan, shift lead manager, said. “… And then he sat down with him and told him how to apply for a job. … And it’s not the first time he’s actually done that.”
Stephenson’s kind act did not go unnoticed. Amanda Vanderford, Pittsburg resident, was waiting in line at the time. She was touched by Stephenson’s random act of kindness and posted on Facebook about what she witnessed. Vanderford’s post reached over 75 thousand shares; one of those was Pittsburg resident and PSU communication alumnus Michael Fienen.
“I picked up the story the same way everybody else did, I saw the original post on FB,” Fienen said. “I respect folks that try to make Pittsburg better … it’s important to me that we focus on each other in a small town; that’s what a small town is all about.”
Fienen then made a post of his own in which he praised Stephenson and invited the public to come together to reward him for his good deed.
“We can’t reward every good dead that comes across our table,” Fienen said. “But we can do some of them, and let’s do that once in a while.”
Ally Bence, PSU junior in social work and Taco Bell associate manager, said it was shocking how word took off.
“We were getting lots of phone calls about how compassionate and kind it was of him,” Bence said.
Taco Bell General Manager Celeste Baker said her phone was “blowing up” with people calling to let her know about the special employee she had.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Baker said. “He’s always been so positive.”
By Monday people from all over the country had joined Fienen in his efforts to put together something special to repay Stephenson for his good deed. Fienen collected donations of over $1,100 from 60 people in 11 states, and the surprises didn’t end there. Sweet Designs Cakery, 311 N. Broadway, Pittsburg, contributed cupcakes and the Hampton Inn, 1285 US-69, Pittsburg, donated as well. They presented Stephenson with their gifts of gratitude while he was working at Taco Bell Monday.
“I don’t know that (Stephenson) could have been more genuinely surprised,” Fienen said. “So that kind of makes it better in a way. I mean you can’t be more pure than that. … Brandon … did something that nobody asked him to, that he didn’t have to do, and I think that’s the thing that is important, and (it) really makes a difference in Pittsburg.”