Giving back by paying it forward


These days, $100 can go a long way. It could put food in my refrigerator, currently filled with week-old leftovers and a bottle of ketchup. It could put just enough gas in the tank to make it home for my grandpa’s 75th birthday this weekend. Or, it could be “paid forward” to touch the lives of people who need it even more than I do.

International Pay it Forward Day is on April 28 of this year. Paying it forward is a well-known concept of performing random acts of kindness for the people around you. Instead of having the favor paid back, the favor is paid forward to someone else as a ripple effect. Last year, 250,000 participants in over 30 countries took part in the pay it forward event. This year, the aim is to reach 3 million acts of kindness, and I am determined to be a part of this movement.

For the next month leading up to April 28, I have decided to do a single random act of kindness each day, keeping a journal of my experience. It must be noted, however, that this project was only made possible because of a random act of kindness here in Duluth. Lizz Downey, a student at UMD, received $100 from a random stranger paying it forward just a few months ago. After hearing of this 30-day project, she then “paid it forward” to me so I could begin my own acts of kindness.

It all began on an early morning in December, just before Christmas. The bitter Duluth wind whipped across the lake and dark clouds hovered with the threat of snow. Downey threw on several thick layers and a pair of warm winter boots just to retrieve the mail. As she flipped past the usual bills and weekly Domino’s coupons, she found a letter addressed to her, with no return information.

Curious, and somewhat skeptical, Downey unsealed the envelope. Inside, she found a crisp $100 bill with a small piece of paper attached. The note simply explained that if she needed this money, she should use it, and if she didn’t, she should “pay it forward”.

Life 97.3, a radio station located on Central Entrance in Duluth, Minn. has been partaking in its own form of paying it forward with its Drive Through Difference campaign.

Life 97.3 caller shares his Pay it Forward experience. by lisamattson

Life 97.3 caller shares her appreciation for the Drive through Difference. by lisamattson

(All audio was provided by Life 97.3 FM)

To participate in the Drive Through Difference, you simply pay for the person behind you while ordering fast food or coffee.

“When a stranger buys you coffee, it’s a sign that not everything is bad, not everybody is rude or mean, and there are acts of love going on,” said Scott Michaels, station manager at Life 97.3. “When you pull through a drive-thru and someone you don’t even know pays for your meal, it can really change your mindset.”

To encourage involvement, Life 97.3 has created a note to print out for the stranger behind you. It reads:


You don’t know me, but I’ve just paid for your order. No gimmicks – it’s just something I felt like doing. I heard about people doing things for others on the radio station 97.3 FM. They call it the “Drive Through Difference”. Maybe you’ll feel like doing it for someone else.

I hear that 97.3 FM loves to share the stories on air. Their phone number is 1-888-414-1549.

I hope this encourages you today!


The stranger in the car in front of you

According to Michaels, Drive Through Difference is “an initiative to make the community better through random acts of kindness.”

Although the station has only been promoting this campaign since December, they have received several phone calls of appreciation and gratitude for this initiative. They estimate that for every phone call they receive, at least 10-15 people have heard about, or passed along, the act of kindness.

Nicole Matthews, on-air employee at Life 97.3, told a memorable story of someone personally affected by the Drive Through Difference. A man called in saying he had his meal paid for while in the Taco John’s drive-thru. The man’s son, whose favorite fast-food restaurant was Taco John’s, had passed away one year ago to the day. He said that when he was told his meal had been accounted for, he had no doubt that his son was watching over him at that moment.

“You’d be surprised how often something as small as three tacos and a mountain dew can make a difference,” Matthews said, reflecting on the moving phone call.

Even though you may not produce touching results such as these for every act of kindness, you will still be positively influencing someone completely unknown to you.

“We live in a world that’s skeptical about whether people care,” Michaels said. “Everywhere you turn there is bad news. Whether it’s the economy, or crime or anything else. It becomes very simple for people to become jaded and think the world is against them.”

Guilty of believing it’s me against the world at times, I wanted to do something that kept others from having this state of mind. Intrigued by this concept, and inspired by the Drive Through Difference, I came up with the project to perform random acts of kindness throughout the Duluth community for the month leading up to International Pay it Forward Day.

Downey, who heard of my curiosity with paying it forward, elected to selflessly contribute to the project by paying the mysterious $100 forward to me.

As somebody unknown paid it forward to Downey, who paid it forward to me, I challenge each of you to step up, show a little kindness, and make a positive difference in a stranger’s life.

These random acts will hopefully encourage people to go and do it for someone else, even though it isn’t required. However simple, this small idea has the power to change the world.

As Michaels suggests, “Let’s bring love back to the Northland.”

Follow me on Twitter @Tbird99 for an update of my journey, or email me at with any questions, comments and suggestions.