- February 19, 2016
Each of the various handwritten papers adhered to the board with Scotch tape bears a broad description along with an offer of free food.
One of them offers a free mac and cheese for a little girl with pigtails, while another offers a slice of pizza and a drink for a child with autism. Yet another is reserved for a couple married for 40 years, while two more are simply for “someone in need.”
But each paper displayed on Winter Garden Pizza Company’s “Pay It Forward” board serve the same purpose: to give patrons an opportunity to perform an act of kindness for a complete stranger.
The idea for the restaurant’s board sprouted about two years ago, when the restaurant’s owners, Alison and Michael Scorsone, visited Orlando Brewing and noticed the patrons buying beer for each other with a similar system. Alison proposed they do something similar in their Italian restaurant as a little experiment.
“I was like, ‘You know what? That board never gets used. Let’s do a pay-it-forward board,’” Alison Scorsone said. “It took a while to catch on, because people didn’t understand it. But I thought, you know, we’ve got such a strong community here, and little acts of kindness can make such a huge change not only for the people receiving it but for the people who are giving it. So we started out with a couple that we thought would be interesting and spark the question of ‘What’s that?’ And it’s caught on since.”
They’ve allowed the board to grow naturally since then. At first, Michael Scorsone was skeptical of the idea, believing it might encourage some to take advantage of it. But he was pleasantly surprised to observe the board has done nothing but bring smiles to his customers.
“It was never, ‘Let’s do this for promotion,’” he said. “We put it up, and we never said a word to anybody — not even the servers. For the first three weeks, half of my servers didn’t know what the heck it was. We just put it up and thought, ‘Let’s see how it rolls.’”
Most people who use a “free food coupon” left by someone else on the board leave one as well, but there is no expectation to do so. Some people don’t really ask or realize it’s there, so some of the servers remind them to check the board. Debbie Liskey, the restaurant’s general manager, sometimes looks for people who fit a description on one of the papers.
“And one time, there was one that said, ‘For a kind person.’ And there was this guy (who) came in, and he helped hold the door open for this whole group of ladies,” Liskey recalled. “And I said, ‘That is so nice of you.’ And I went up there, and I said, ‘Here, this is for you,’ and gave it to him, because sometimes people feel that they don’t want to take something from there, so I try to find them.”
Another time, Liskey helped a man trying to buy a slice who was 50 cents short. She told him about the board and how he could use it to get two, and the man started crying. One person she always sees use the board is a blond homeless lady who comes in with her baby in a stroller.
“It’s kind of cool to know that you’re giving something to somebody, even though you don’t know who that is,” Alison Scorsone said. “And then the next time you’re back, and you see that it’s gone, it gives you joy again to know you’ve made somebody’s day great — to know you’ve impacted somebody’s life with just a simple act of kindness.”
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected]