PATERSON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A dozen friends set out a mission to make a stranger’s holiday season much brighter.
They stopped into a New Jersey restaurant and surprised a woman with a little “shock and Claus,” CBS2’s Scott Rapoport reported Monday.
Angelica Alicea works hard as a waitress at an IHOP on Main Street in Paterson.
The 30-year-old’s job doesn’t pay much, only $2.13 an hour. She is largely dependent upon tips, which usually works out to about $6 per table.
It’s not a lot of money, but for the single mother with two children, every dollar counts.
“It’s tight, yeah,” Alicea said.
But over the weekend, she said she was serving a large group of people at the restaurant and at the end of the meal something remarkable happened, something she never could’ve dreamed of.
“I see a ball of money in the receipt,” Alicea said with a laugh.
Her customers left her a $1,200 tip.
“I cried instantly. When they said it … I cried,” she said. “I was happy. The first thing I thought about was my children. It was Christmas time.”
Watch Lisa Rozner’s report
The incredibly generous tip came from Zellie Thomas, a school teacher from Paterson, and 11 of his friends. They simply decided they wanted to do something nice for a complete stranger for Christmas.
“She was just like flabbergasted,” Thomas said. “She was so appreciative.”
Today, i was apart of something that I hope becomes an annual holiday tradition.
A group of us gathered for breakfast at the Paterson @IHOP each bringing $100. We paid the bill and gave our waitress a $1,200 tip.
It really is a privilege to be someone else’s blessing! 😊😊 pic.twitter.com/soa8wmZzt1
— zellie (@zellieimani) December 14, 2019
Paterson Councilwoman Lilisa Mimms, a single mom herself, was at the table.
“She has young kids, she’s been through some struggles and I know personally,” she said. “I was like, yeah, she really deserves this.”
“Angelica went to a manager and said, ‘No no no no no, they made a mistake.’ She tried to give this money back, so can you imagine? And again it speaks to her character,” said Adenah Bayoh, the owner of IHOP of Paterson.
For Alicea, the moment was monumental and meaningful.
“It could’ve been any other server, and it just happened to be me,” she said. “First of all, I’ve taken care of my bills. We will have a roof over our heads.”
“We all know some people are struggling or having a hard time,” Thomas said. “It’s always a privilege to be a blessing to somebody else.”
The others who contributed $100 to the generous surprise were Jaylin Thomas, Mike Williams, Passaic County Freeholder T.J. Best, Councilman Robert Artis, Kenneth Simmons, Lynda Wilson, Lekeshia Mimms, Nakima Redmond, Roger Grier and Kenny Simpson.
The gift of kindness. Christmas came early for a woman who could use it, and deserves it.
The good deed was inspired by viral posts in Colorado a couple of years back, where a group of diners did the same.
Thomas and others continued the tradition Monday night by serving free food to hundreds in the Paterson community.
They hope others take to the tradition and spread holiday cheer early this year.
Our series Oh My Goodness highlights people doing good deeds in their community, either big or small. Do you know someone doing good or making a difference in your community? We want to know all about them! Email OhMyGoodness@CBS.com or send us a message on Facebook. You can also use #OMGCBS on Twitter or Instagram.