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Matt Beem
President, Hartsook Companies, Inc.
 

Paying it forward has many rewards

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<SATURDAY, May 03, 2008Saturday, February 14, 2009

Kick back with your morning cup of joe and conjure this crazy image:

I’m on a conference call with two colleagues, juggling my nearly empty cup of coffee while navigating the tight drive-through lane at Starbucks on 23rd Street in Independence. There’s a spreadsheet balanced on my briefcase in the passenger’s seat, on which I’m attempting to write as I turn the car with my left knee, which is doubling as a hand since my other two are occupied.

With me so far? Keep up; something good’s about to happen.

I order a medium black coffee while apologizing to my colleagues before remembering I can mute the phone and spare them the full coffee order transcript. Then, with nobody in earshot except the drive-through attendant extending my coffee as I offer a $5 bill, I hear the magic words:

“You’re coffee’s free today. The woman in front of you paid for it.”

“What?” I ask. “I don’t owe you anything?”

“She paid for your coffee,” repeated the Starbucks attendant, pointing to the silver Nissan as it turned west onto 23rd Street. “She paid it forward.”

No kidding? And I’m the lucky beneficiary?

“Well I’ll be darned,” I say as I take the coffee and put the $5 back in my wallet. “I think this is going to be a good day.”

It was. And before the week was over, something even stranger happened.

Oddly, I found myself at another Starbucks, this time in Blue Springs. I rarely buy coffee at Starbucks, much less twice in one week. (I’m a QuikTrip coffee guy: It’s cheap, and the dark roast is hard to beat.)

You know what I ordered and can guess what I did: I paid it forward.

The even-younger attendant at the Blue Springs Starbucks momentarily mistook me for a seedy character when I told her I’d wait at the drive-through window until the next car ordered, then pay for its purchase before going on my way. Her colleague vouched for me, though, and my plot was hatched.

Ten minutes and $6.54 later – must have been a large, fancy drink – I turned right onto Missouri 7 grinning from ear to ear. I’d paid it forward, and it felt really good.

I’m not the first to catch the pay it forward bug. Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book and a movie starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt, both by the same name, were released in 2000. They sparked renewed positive activism, which you can learn about at http://www.payitforwardfoundation.org, and a how-to-pay-it-forward guide, which is online at http://www.wikihow.com/Pay-It-Forward.

Ever thought about how different our world would be if we all paid it forward once in awhile?

What if you gave Harvesters, a Kansas City organization serving the hungry in Eastern Jackson County, $1 a month in honor of somebody you respect? Then you told the person you’d made the gift and invited them to do the same for another? Your $12 a year would join with the Examiner’s 14,592 other weekend readers’ gifts to purchase $175,116 of food for the hungry.

Pretty powerful, huh? Your $12 gift could leverage $175,116.

So the next time you buy a cup of coffee, dig a little deeper and spring for the next guy’s. You’ll make his day – and touch others through your exemplary act of philanthropy.  

Matt Beem is president of Hartsook Companies, an international fundraising consulting firm. He lives in Independence.

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