It began as the simple fulfillment of a dead brother's wish. But in a moving reminder of the generosity of the human spirit, Aaron Collins' desire to give one waiter "an awesome tip" has raised over $50,000 in donations -- which Aaron's family has now pledged to distribute to surprised waiters and waitresses around the country.
Aaron Collins was three weeks shy of his 30th birthday when he passed away in a Lexington, Ky., hospital. According to the Associated Press, his death was unexpected, with a preliminary coroner's report reporting strangulation as a contributing factor to his death.
Two days later, Aaron's brother Seth wrote a tribute to his brother in a blog post.
"Aaron was the type of person that took great joy in unexpected kindness. Once after receiving exceptionally bad service at dinner, from a rude waitress, he left her a $50 tip. Things like this, given or received, were what he thought left a mark on a person’s life ... He had the following request: “Third, leave an awesome tip (and I don’t mean 25%. I mean $500 on a f***ing pizza) for a waiter or waitress."
Collins solicited donations in Aaron's memory, adding, "If you can’t donate then please give a generous tip on your own. Tell the waiter or waitress why, or don’t. He would still be happy that you had done it. Give them this website address if you’d like, or write it on the check, so they know they received the gift because of my brother."
The plea, accompanied by a video of Seth handing out the first tip, went viral. Within days the story was picked up by local television stations and national outlets, including The Huffington Post, CNN and NPR.
Less than a month later Aaron's Wish has collected $51,135 -- and counting -- from donors around the world, many anonymous. Seth has since distributed three more $500 tips, handed to the shocked servers in stacks of $20 bills. He said the family has raised almost enough money to distribute a new big tip once a week for the next two years.
The videos capture the poignant reactions of both tipper and tippee. Chelsea Powell, the waitress in the second video, is a 21-year-old student at the University of Kentucky who works three jobs to make ends meet, and hopes to become a teacher. The next waitress, Annie, told Seth Collins that she has a 10-month-old son, and Stephanie, tipped this week, told Collins off camera that she has a 2-year-old.
"The tip will definitely be put to good use," Collins wrote, under the YouTube clip.
Check out the video below of Aaron's brother, Seth, giving Annie, a waitress at Charlie Brown's, a big tip.