Merritt Island Theater kids tip beloved waiter big and help in unexpected ways

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Students from Merritt Island High School’s drama department are familiar faces at nearby Chili’s Grill & Bar.

Kristen Cook said she met them shortly after taking a waiter job about six months ago. She quickly became the group’s favorite waitress — they often asked for her when they came to eat.

On the night of April 24, when the band arrived after their final screening of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” things went a little differently than normal.

It was a pretty quiet night at the restaurant, Cook said. Other than the group of about 25 or 30 kids, the restaurant was winding down for the evening.

She was joking with the students and having a good time. The students even helped her clear their dishes when they had finished eating.

When they got up to pay, something unique happened.

“(One kid) kind of started a chain reaction,” Cook said. “He typed in a $20 tip – his meal was $13…and he turned around and said, ‘That’s how you tip someone.'”

Cook said the student, Daniel Allard, encouraged others to tip him what they could.

After the students left, Cook, out of curiosity, separated the children’s tips from the others.

“I literally hit the ground and started screaming,” she said.

They had tipped him $300.

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The extra money is a tremendous help, she says.

She is a single mother with four children and has struggled financially since splitting from her husband nearly three years ago. Due to the lack of stable housing, her children have been living with their father for about two years while she stayed with friends or colleagues.

Ethan Costanilla, a senior from Merritt Island High School, said he and Allard, who both encouraged others to tip, had no idea Cook was struggling when they decided to tip. extra effort.

“(We know) sometimes, theater kids are sometimes really loud in restaurants and stuff like that and really rude, so we kind of — we didn’t want to make his job too difficult,” Costanilla said. “We were just kids having fun and trying to be respectful at the same time.”

After receiving the tip, Cook posted on several Facebook groups about the experience, seeking to thank the children and their parents. By the next morning, her post had prompted responses from many in the community, with some looking to help her situation.

“I’ve had people offer to help me. I’ve had people offer to ‘add to their tip’, that’s what they called it,” a- she declared.

Donations came in via CashApp, Venmo and Paypal because of the post, Cook said.

A community member offered to post bail for an apartment for Cook, with another offering to post bail for his utilities. The cook is moving in next week.

“I continue to be blessed, and I worked so hard, then I finally broke – and (at) that moment, when I counted all that kids money, I didn’t even know it was all okay happen,” she said. “They stood on top of a mountain and threw a snowball.

Kristen Cook and her children Persephone, 4, Teresa, 11, William, 2, and Drake, 11.

Andrea Brown, director of theater arts at Merritt Island High School, said in a statement to FLORIDA TODAY that she is proud of the generosity of her students.

“Over the past few months they have given so much time and effort to our theatrical arts program to make our production of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ as great as possible. Next, learn more about their kind deeds and generous in the community warms my heart,” she said.

Costanilla said when he and his friends found out about the effect they had on Cook, it shocked them.

“Just the fact that a small act of kindness can mean so much to someone when you don’t even think about it,” he said. “Some of us were actually crying about how, like, how we changed that person’s life just because we were trying to be nice to them.

“And that’s something I think we’ll never forget.”

Finch Walker is a Breaking News reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Walker at 321-290-4744 or [email protected] Twitter: @_finchwalker

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