Local waitress receives generous tip as part of Pay it Forward

MORRIS – Maria’s Restaurant waitress Dani Tatum was stunned last Friday night when she picked up the check from the young couple sitting in one of her booths.

On their $42 bill, the couple tipped Tatum $100, making it the most generous tip she had ever received in her two years of waiting tables.

“My mouth just dropped,” Tatum said Tuesday. “I imagined there was a hidden camera somewhere in the restaurant.”

At the top of the receipt, the anonymous tippers wrote “Pay it Forward in Memory of Michael Collins” and included the Twitter hashtag #MCStrong at the bottom. The couple who gave the tip left before Tatum could thank them and find out more.

“I’d heard of the whole pay it forward idea, in general, but I had no idea who Michael Collins was,” she said.

After looking online, Marilyn Yuhas, the manager of Maria’s Restaurant in Morris, found that Collins was an Illinois State University student who died last month in a car accident.

“I knew this was something special,” Yuhas said.

On March 29, the car Collins and three other passengers were riding in was struck by a vehicle that ran a red light. Three days later, Collins was pronounced dead due to injuries sustained during the accident.

The driver who ran the light is facing a drunken driving charge.

Shortly after Collins’ death, longtime friend Hailey Lanier created a Facebook page titled Pay it Forward for Michael Collins, in which she asked anyone who knew Collins to perform one act of kindness in his memory.

“Being an organ donor, Michael was able to help over 200 people by giving them the life-saving organs that they need,” wrote Lanier on the Facebook page. “I want to honor Michael and his giving nature by sharing and conducting random acts of kindness in his name.”

The page ignited a chain of good deeds that has spread from Bloomington, to Morris, to other cities throughout the U.S. and the world. As of now, nearly 20,000 people have contributed to the Facebook page and Twitter hashtag.

Those on the giving or receiving end of a good deed done in Michael’s memory are encouraged to share their story on social media.

Yuhas said while telling the story to other waitresses in the restaurant last Friday night, a woman visiting Morris from California overheard and was inspired to leave another generous tip for one of the bartenders in honor of Collins.

“She was sitting there listening to me describe how these people have taken a sad situation and turned it into something positive and she was moved,” Yuhas said. “We should be so lucky to have friends that would do something like that for us.”

Tatum said the money was much appreciated, as she is six months pregnant and was in the process of moving into a new home with her fiance on the same day she received the tip.

“I was actually debating on whether I should come to work on Friday because we had so much going on,” she said. “Now I’m glad I came.”

Tatum will be paying it forward in memory of Michael by doing a random act of kindness, but said she hasn’t decided what that will be.

“I’ve thought about leaving $40 on a gas pump for the next person who drives up,” she said. “I’m not sure. I want it to be special.”