Looking Out For Others: How One Server’s Small Act Of Kindness Changed Her Life

Working at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant in New Hampshire, Sarah Hoidahl was a single mother doing her best to get by. A hard worker and a beloved employee, she was known for her kindness and generosity to customers. However, when two women from the National Guard came in one day for lunch, Sarah would show an act of kindness that was above and beyond!

She Was A Single Mother

sarah-h
shoidahl/Facebook
shoidahl/Facebook

It was a typical day for Sarah Hoidahl, a 21-year-old single mother who worked as a waitress at a New Hampshire Ruby Tuesday on Loudon Road in Concord. She clocked in, took orders, delivered food, chatted with regulars… nothing out of the ordinary.

She may have thought it was going to be just another average day when she woke up that morning. However, everything changed when two female National Guard officers sat down at one of her tables.

They Were Looking For A Cheap Lunch

Picture of restaurant
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Although the menu at a typical Ruby Tuesday isn’t all that expensive, when the women from the New Hampshire National Guard sat down to eat, it was clear that they were in distress.

As Sarah was going about her business, she overheard the two servicewomen talking, and what she heard was disheartening. They were discussing how they were both struggling financially due to the government shutdown, so they needed to order something cheap.

She Understood Their Struggle

It was right around this time that President Obama signed the Pay Our Military Act before the shutdown to ensure our service members were still paid. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a guarantee for everyone.

While listening to the women’s conversation, Sarah’s heart went out to them. Being a waitress and single mother, life wasn’t exactly a breeze for her either as she struggled to support her family on whatever amount of money she made at the restaurant.

She Had To Do Something

As Sarah went about her business at the restaurant, she couldn’t stop herself from thinking about those women. After all, they were serving our country in the New Hampshire National Guard and now weren’t even being paid for it.

It felt so absurd and unfair to Sarah, to the point that she felt she had to something. So, after the women had ordered and eaten, instead of returning with the bill, Sarah came back to the table with a note.

She Gave Away Her Day’s Pay

Picture of tip jar
Dan Smedley/Unsplash
Dan Smedley/Unsplash

Although the two women ordered modest meals, figuring that they would be paying for themselves, their bill was still close to $30. Regardless, Sarah paid for all of it.

What most people don’t know is that Sarah only made $27 that day, meaning that she walked home empty-handed after treating these two women to lunch. Clearly, Sarah didn’t think of it that way and was just happy that she could have been there to help.

The Women Couldn’t Believe It

Walking into Ruby Tuesday that day, the two servicewomen were pretty down in the dumps. Not only did they no longer have a paycheck, but they felt that they had been wronged, and now they had to worry about how they were going to pay for lunch at a reasonably priced restaurant.

Their dread when Sarah arrived with the check quickly turned to elation as they realized what Sarah had done for them.

They Wanted To Share Their Story

Lunch Is On MeMeet Sarah Hoidahl. She is a waitress at the Ruby Tuesday in Concord. She is 21, and a single mother….

Posted by New Hampshire National Guard on Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thankful beyond belief, the two women couldn’t help themselves but share what Sarah had done for them on Facebook. Both the New Hampshire National Guard and Ruby Tuesday even shared the note as well with a picture of the note and Sarah! One Facebook commenter wrote:

“That’s really sweet of you Sarah! On behalf of an Ex-military (USMC), I want to say thank you so much for your thoughtfulness and kindness!”

Sarah Explained Herself

While talking to a local news station, WUMR, Sarah explained, “I was just thinking to myself that must be really difficult. Just because the income stops, doesn’t mean the bills do.” Sarah continued, “I mean, they protect this country.”

Another person on Facebook commented, “If the government will not take care of our military, it restores my faith in humanity when someone steps up and does what she can do.”

Ruby Tuesday Was A Proud Employer

Picture of sign
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

When the National Guard posted the picture of Sarah and her note on Facebook, Ruby Tuesday didn’t want her kindness to go unnoticed either and did the same!

On their Facebook page, they wrote, “Shout out to our team member Sarah at Ruby Tuesday Concord, NH for going above and beyond to truly serve those who serve our country! We are proud to have you in the Ruby Tuesday family and thank you for your shining example of generosity and care.”

The Story Went Viral

Unsurprisingly, after Sarah’s story was shared on Facebook, it caught fire. Thousands of people shared it on their own pages, and before long, it was national news.

People couldn’t get enough of the young single mother that paid out of her own pocket for two struggling women in the service. It was a true story of American kindness and it eventually reached the ears of a celebrity who wanted to thank Sarah on behalf of everyone.

Sarah Was Invited To Be On Ellen

GPicture of ellen
Brooks Kraft/Getty Images
Brooks Kraft/Getty Images

When news of Sarah’s story reached Ellen DeGeneres, she knew that she had to have her on the show to explain what happened. In front of a live studio audience, Ellen embraced Sarah saying “You’re a good person.”

She then had Sarah recount what happened on that day at the restaurant. Sarah explained, “It just got me thinking, ‘Geez, that’s really difficult. I’m a waitress and a single mother. I know how it is.”

Ellen DeGeneres Wanted To Pay Her Back

Screenshot of show
TheEllenShow/YouTube
TheEllenShow/YouTube

According to Sarah, the bill for the two women came out to be $27.75, leaving her with just $8 to herself when leaving work. Apparently, that was barely enough for even gas for her to get home! Ellen couldn’t believe it, so she decided to lend Sarah a hand.

Out of an outrageously large purse, Ellen then pulled out $27.75 in cash and gave it to Sarah so she could be paid back for what she did.

Ellen Took It Up A Notch

Screenshot of show
TheEllenShow/YouTube
TheEllenShow/YouTube

After Ellen gave Sarah her hard-earned money back, she turned to the young waitress and mentioned that Sarah had said that she couldn’t watch her show because she had a broken TV.

Ellen went on to say that being unable to watch her show because of this was “unacceptable” and gifted her with a brand new 50-inch flat-screen TV. Sarah couldn’t believe what was happening, all because she did what was right for those two women.

Ellen Wasn’t Done Yet

Screenshot of show
TheEllenShow/YouTube
TheEllenShow/YouTube

Ellen then looked back into her purse, realizing that she was now out of cash and needed enough money to get home herself. So, she asked, “Andy, can you bring momma her checkbook, please.” Andy then came running out from behind the scenes holding a massive checkbook!

Ellen then held up the checkbook and wrote Sarah a check for a whopping $10,000! Of course, Sarah burst into tears because the excitement and gratitude were too much for her.

Sarah Couldn’t Believe Her Eyes

Screenshot of show
TheEllenShow/YouTube
TheEllenShow/YouTube

After Ellen finished signing the oversized check, she and Sarah shared another embrace as Sarah fell into tears, in complete disbelief as to what was happening. $10,000 was going to change her entire life considering that she was supporting herself and her 18-month-old son while working at a restaurant.

It’s almost as if Sarah had to remind herself to breathe because she was so overwhelmed with what was happening. The crowd was emotional, too, as Sarah was finally getting the thanks she deserved.

There Was A Secret Interview

Screenshot of show
TheEllenShow/YouTube
TheEllenShow/YouTube

In a later episode of The Ellen Show, Ellen explained to the audience what Sarah had done and showed a clip of Sarah talking to who she thought was local news.

As it turns out, the man she is talking to is one of the producers of the show, and the cameras that they used were for the show as well. This way, Sarah was completely honest about her answers and what happened to the interviewer.

The Whole Thing Was Live

Screenshot of show
TheEllenShow/YouTube
TheEllenShow/YouTube

Ellen then explained that she was going to have someone come into the interview, saying that Sarah had a call and she would be on the other line. On live television, Ellen proceeded to call Sarah, and everything went according to plan.

Someone handed Sarah a phone with Ellen speaking on the other end, and it was all on film. Ellen then revealed that the interview had been a setup and that she was actually on The Ellen Show.

“He’s Not A Reporter!”

Screenshot of show
TheEllenShow
TheEllenShow

After Ellen revealed that the man Sarah was speaking to wasn’t a reporter, Sarah was beside herself. Ellen admitted that she was taping a show and wanted to check up to see how Sarah was doing.

Sarah revealed that she had been contacted by people from all over the world saying thank you, also revealing that Ruby Tuesday gave her a generous bonus. Ellen went on to add that she heard the $10,000 she received would go toward a car for Sarah and her mother to share because their other one was inadequate.

Sarah’s Car Was Struggling

Screenshot of show
TheEllenShow/YouTube
TheEllenShow/YouTube

When asked about her current car, Sarah said, “it has four wheels and gets me from point A to point B.” Sarah also explained that sharing the car is a difficult process but that she and her mother manage okay with good friends’ help.

Once again, Ellen took out her gigantic purse on camera and began rummaging through it, only to remember that her gift was in the hands of somebody actually with Sarah.

It Was A Brand New Car

Screenshot of show
TheEllenShow/YouTube
TheEllenShow/YouTube

A crew member then walked down the hallway with a set of keys for a brand new car for Sarah. A new bright red Hyundai San Jose Sport was sitting in the parking lot waiting for her.

Still on the phone with Ellen, Sarah was crying as she opened the door and got inside to have a look. At this point, Sarah was unable to formulate sentences because she was in such amazement at everything happening.

She Finally Had The Car Delivered

Screenshot of show
TheEllenShow/YouTube
TheEllenShow/YouTube

Unfortunately, Sarah couldn’t drive out of the parking lot with the car and had to wait for the paperwork to be filed and the car to be processed.

Upon receiving the car, Sarah commented, “It’s been a long wait for this car,” she said. “But I really can’t complain … it’s going to be nice … I don’t know what I’m going to do. It’s going to be so wonderful.” It was a dream come true to her.

Sarah Has Remained Humble

Oh what a memory ❤ 5 years goes by awfully fast.

Posted by Sarah Hoidahl on Monday, October 22, 2018

Despite the incredible circumstances that Sarah found herself in, she proved herself a humble person before, during, and after everything that happened with the note. Today, Sarah looks back fondly at her time with Ruby Tuesday although the Concord location closed in 2019.

Talking to a local news outlet, Sarah said “I just want to wish my Ruby family the best, and thank them for these last eight years.” We’re hopeful that the future continues to shine brightly for this kind woman who cares so much about others!