Skip to main content

Stranger pays for 'special' family's dinner, leaves touching note

By Justin Lear, CNN
September 4, 2013 -- Updated 1741 GMT (0141 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ashley England was having a difficult time with her special needs son at a restaurant
  • A stranger paid for their meal and left a note that touched her deeply
  • She posted the note on Facebook, and it has been shared by thousands

(CNN) -- A dinner out turned into an experience of a lifetime for a North Carolina family thanks to one stranger's heartfelt gesture.

Ashley England and her family want to thank a customer who paid for their meal Friday night and left behind a touching note about their special needs son. A photo of the note has gone viral, shared with thousands of people on Facebook.

England told CNN her family, including husband, Jason, 8-year-old son Riley, 4-year-old brother Logan, the boys' grandmother and their great-grandmother were together at the Stag & Doe restaurant in China Grove, North Carolina, for a family meal when their special needs son, Riley, started to get frustrated. He was hungry and couldn't get the Netflix on his mom's phone to work.

The waitress, the autistic girl and the broken hamburger

Riley, 8, suffers from epilepsy and is non-verbal.
Riley, 8, suffers from epilepsy and is non-verbal.

Since Riley suffers from epilepsy and is non-verbal, England said, it's hard for him to communicate and he screams and acts out when he's frustrated. England said he started to make screaming noises, beat on their table and threw her phone, catching the attention of some nearby customers.

Although a few customers were looking, it wasn't the worst experience her family has had out in public since Riley's condition was diagnosed when he was a toddler, England said. But she was frustrated, she said, and in the past few weeks it has been really tough controlling Riley's behavior.

So what happened next was just what the family needed.

Autism, dining out and a side of kindness

As their waitress was delivering food to the family's table, England noticed another waitress, Tonya Griffin, walk up with a few tears in her eyes. She passed along a message from another customer that the England family says they will never forget.

Griffin told the family, "your meal's been paid for and he wanted me to give you this note." The note written on a customer's order slip read, "God only gives special children to special people."

The England family.
The England family.

England told CNN the gesture was really needed and it made her cry. "I just broke down, the past month has just been so hard."

She added, "He just doesn't know what we've been going through and how much it was needed at the moment."

When England updated her Facebook page about the family's experience Friday night, she ended it with this message: "Dear stranger, thank you for giving me a blessing tonight in a way you will never know."

England says she will be back at the restaurant when it reopens Wednesday -- its hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday -- in hopes she can find the man to thank him personally.

Canadians paying the coffee forward -- by the hundreds

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0254 GMT (1054 HKT)
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0024 GMT (0824 HKT)
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1706 GMT (0106 HKT)
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0822 GMT (1622 HKT)
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2100 GMT (0500 HKT)
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
December 21, 2014 -- Updated 1746 GMT (0146 HKT)
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT)
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT