Community Bands Together To Save A Favorite Donut Shop

People are creatures of habit — we like what we like and we stick with it. Some of the more adventurous types may constantly try new restaurants, new stores, new routes, new music, but even they tend to come back to their roots. And why not? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, darlin’.

The people of Seal Beach, California, loved their daily donuts. And how could they not? The charming owners of their local donut spot could whip up a tasty batch of the pastries. So when these regulars noticed something amiss at the shop, they banded together in the most incredible way to help the donut makers who’d made their mornings stellar…

In 1979, John Chhan and his wife Stella left their home-country of Cambodia to seek refuge in the United States. They weren’t looking for the American dream; just a stable job with enough income to support their household and a safe place to rest their heads.

They ended up settling down in California — in Seal Beach to be exact. About a year later they opened a business near the beach, betting dollars to donuts that both locals and tourists alike would wander into their shop.

Their shop was a donut bakery called Donut City. This, they figured, was a smart business to invest in because Americans, no matter how empty their pockets, could always afford a few sweet pastries for breakfast. It would be a solid investment for their future.

Hardworking John and Stella, sometimes with the help of their kids, did everything themselves: work the register, package the boxes, clean the floors, and refill the donuts, all with a big smile and a friendly “welcome.” But customers soon noticed a change.

NBC Los Angeles

John was doing all the work by himself, and Stella was nowhere to be found. Had the two separated? Was Stella just on a vacation? No one knew what happened to their favorite donut purveyors!

KABC

Soon the truth behind Stella’s disappearance broke: she had suffered an aneurysm. Her health failing fast; she was under intense medical care and couldn’t work at the donut shop anymore.

Unfortunately, that meant John had to do all the work by himself. His hours at “the office” increased, and this cut into the time he could spend with his ailing wife!

The patrons of the bakery were avid donut lovers who needed a daily fix, so they’d seen John and Stella nearly every morning for many years! To them, donuts were no joke, and neither was the Chhan’s unfortunate situation.

“We have watched them work extremely hard to keep their doors open and support their family,” customer Marc Loopesko said. “We will always support them, even more so in their time of need.”

Other loyal customers echoed the sentiment. Steven O’Fallon, a regular, said that is was “heartbreaking to hear of Stella Chhan’s misfortune.” The community was shook. They wanted to return the Chhan’s kindness.

Orange County Register

So, every morning, rather than purchasing a single donut for themselves — or even a handful for their families — loyal patrons bought a dozen, whether they needed them or not (some even distributed their extra ones to the homeless!)

At this new rate, John’s donuts were often completely sold out by noon. While empty store racks might be a sign of poor business, an economical crisis, or a zombie apocalypse, in this instance, it was a gift.

KCAL/KCBS via CNN

The store selling out so early was not only a financial relief for John, but it also meant that he could close the shop hours earlier and be with Stella while she rehabilitated.

With customers supporting a cause bigger than their appetites, kindness and support spread rapidly through the Donut City community. As one of the patrons said: “I really believe that something like this, a community coming together to support one of their own, is what we really need right now.” 

KCAL/KCBS via CNN

John was overwhelmed with not only gratitude but glee. “I feel very warm,” he said. “I can just say, ‘Thank you very much.'” His customers also offered to set up a GoFundMe page for John, but he politely declined. It wasn’t about the money for him. He just wanted to spend time with Stella.

KABC

As for the missing Donut queen, as of 2019, she was recovering slowly but steadily. “She can talk, she can write,” John said of his wife’s progress. “Right now she’s trying to start eating something.” Of course, he hoped to see her back on her feet really soon.

In the meantime, John had his hands full with dozens of donuts! Giving your community a smile can have profound, far-reaching effects. John learned this lesson, and so did the Rosati family of North Carolina.

Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register

A resident of Durham, North Carolina, Chris Rosati seemed to have it all. With a loving wife, two beautiful daughters, and a high-level job as a marketing vice president, the 41 year old was undoubtedly living the American dream.

Chris Rosati / Facebook

But that all changed for Chris in 2012 when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The news came as a shock to the Rosatis, and with no cure for the disease, it appeared that Chris’ charmed life would soon come to a tragic end.

Durham Academy

But while most would crumble under the weight of such a diagnosis, Chris instead saw it as an opportunity to reevaluate what was important in his life. He refocused his energy on what he truly felt mattered most: his family.

Tamara Lackey

“We’re missing the greatest experience we’ll ever have, ever,” Chris said of his and most other providers’ tendency to put work before family. “You always think that people who are dying want to get up early and watch the sunrise. I don’t. I like to sleep – but if my kids get up early, I want that experience.”

CBS

Chris was determined to spread as much kindness as he could to as many people as possible. But while most would expect him to do something like work at a soup kitchen or build houses for the homeless, Chris had a different idea in mind: he was going to become a thief.

CBS

In true Robin Hood fashion, Chris’ plan was to steal a Krispy Kreme delivery truck, drive it to the nearest elementary school, and spend the day handing out free to doughnuts to kids. He even officially applied to be a driver for the company to further add to the story of his daring heist.

Empire Vehicles

“I knew I wouldn’t get the job,” Chris told CBS News in January 2014. “But at least then I could say when they arrested me, ‘Hey, man, I applied.'”

Unfortunately, Chris’ scheme never came to fruition, but his desire to brighten the lives of those in his community hadn’t fallen on deaf ears. Catching wind of his plan through a Facebook post, Krispy Kreme contacted Chris directly with an offer he never expected.

While most companies wouldn’t see the funny side in someone threatening to rob them, Krispy Kreme decided to help makes Chris’ plan a reality. Sending him two trucks stocked with Krispy Kremes, the doughnut giant appointed Chris their newest driver.

Shelly Leslie WRAL / Twitter

Chris traveled to a number of places that day, including a children’s hospital and a local park, and handed out doughnuts to hundreds of lucky kids. “We’re glad to make some people smile,” Chris told CBS News as he doled out the glazed treats.

CBS

Even with so many made happy by his kindness Chris didn’t stop there, as he was determined to spread joy beyond just Durham. But instead of handing out doughnuts, he began handing out something else entirely: money.

Dubbing his new initiative “Butterfly Grants,” Chris began handing out fifty-dollar bills to children everywhere he went. After giving them the cash, Chris then encouraged the kids to live life to the fullest and use the money to change the world, just as he did.

Chris Rosati / GoFundMe

This new plan was even more successful than the last, and pretty soon “Butterfly Grants” had become a national sensation. People everywhere adopted Chris’ initiative, and teachers petitioned to have the program instituted in their classrooms.

Chris Rosati / Facebook

“I believe that most students are thirsty for ways to make a difference in the world,” explained Dr. Judith Palmer, an advocate for the program. “They do see the needs. I have found our students to be socially aware and determined to become change-makers.”

Durham Academy

Not only did Chris start a nationwide movement, but he also got to see the fruits of his movement firsthand. After handing $50 to two young girls at a diner and encouraging them to change the world, Chris never expected how far his gift would actually go.

CBS Sunday Morning / YouTube

With their father having once worked in Sierra Leone as a member of the Peace Corps, the two girls sent their “Butterfly Grants” to the village where he had stayed. Using the money, the villagers held a great feast, and Chris received dozens of thank yous.

CBS Sunday Morning / YouTube

But through it all, Chris made sure to spend as much time as he could with his daughters, taking them on amazing trips and treating them to once-in-a-lifetime experiences. However, despite his new attitude, the girls insisted that their father had always been this way.

Chris Rosati / Facebook

“That dad who has ALS was the dad I was born with,” eldest daughter Logan said of her father in 2014. “[He] tried to make friends with the world. I think it’s hard to do that. So I’m proud of him.”

Tamara Lackey

Sadly, Chris’ battle with ALS came to an end in October of 2017, and he passed away at the age of 46. But even after leaving this world behind, Chris still had one more mission of kindness to share.

CBS

At the funeral service held for Chris the following month, each guest was given one very special gift: a one-dollar bill. With it, Chris hoped that everyone there, from children to adults, would find a way to change the world.

CBS

Small acts of kindness can go a long way, and few people know that better than those who crossed paths with Chris Rosati. Still, new mom Jamie-Lynne Knighten knew the impossible power of love and sweetness…

ABC News

Following a draining trip, Jamie-Lynne touched down in Southern California. She would’ve liked nothing more than to go home and sleep, but the Knightens had almost no food left in the house. She decided to make a quick run to the store.

So Cal Meto / Flickr

So Jamie-Lynne headed over to the Trader Joe’s in Oceanside with her five-month-old in tow. Weaving through the busy aisles, she filled up her cart with a number of items. However, this errand wasn’t going as smoothly as she hoped.

Her worn-out infant was throwing a tantrum in the store. Between trying to calm him down and apologizing to other customers around them, Jamie-Lynne barely had time to scan the shelves for food she wanted!

Finally, the tired mom and kid made it to check out. With any luck, the line would move swiftly, and they could get home in a matter of minutes. Jamie-Lynne stepped up to the register and pulled out her credit card.

Except for each time she swiped, the register declined her card! Realizing that the bank thought she was still traveling, Jamie-Lynne panicked. How was she going to pay for this huge grocery order?

Moments later, she felt a tap on her shoulder and whirled around to face a stranger. Without giving him a chance to speak, the stressed mom said she was sorry for the delay. The last thing she needed was a customer screaming, too.

NBC San Diego

Except, scanning over Jamie-Lynne’s $200 order, the customer — who introduced himself as Matthew Jackson — made a shocking offer. He said he would pay for her entire cart, though with one condition.

Jamie-Lynne had to pay it forward and someday do the same for someone else in need. Grateful beyond belief, she accepted his generous proposition. The mom also insisted on jotting down Matthew’s information, so she could pay him back.

Matthew mentioned he worked at a nearby LA Fitness, so Jamie-Lynne called the gym the next day. When she asked for Matthew Jackson, however, all she heard on the other line was a sob.

That sobbing came from Angela Lavinder, the manager of the LA Fitness. Once she took a moment to calm herself, Angela explained that Matthew wouldn’t be able to meet. There had been an accident.

NBC San Diego

Less than 24 hours after Matthew paid for the Knighten’s groceries, his car had veered into a tree. Two passengers with him entered the hospital with severe injuries, but Matthew got the worst of the crash.

He died from the trauma shortly after. This news shook Jamie-Lynne to her core. Was it possible that the life of this Good Samaritan was snuffed out just moments after their brief meeting? She soon found out that his selflessness wasn’t an isolated incident either.

NBC San Diego

Notably, Matthew and his mother traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, one summer. When he spotted a homeless man sitting alone on the sidewalk, Matthew jumped out of the car on a busy street to hand him a bottle of water.

It was so unfair, Jamie-Lynne thought, for this young man’s bright future to be cut short. At the very least, however, she pledged to make good on her final promise to Matthew. She would pay it forward.

So Jamie-Lynne went online and set up an organization called Matthew’s Legacy. She asked all interested members to “please do something extraordinary for a stranger to honor #MatthewsLegacy and help restore faith in humanity.”
Los Angeles Times

Jamie-Lynne began sharing photos (like the one below) and stories of her family performing various acts of kindness. Soon, the number of members of Matthew’s Legacy climbed into the thousands, and then the tens of thousands. Other people started submitting stories, too.

Facebook / MatthewsLegacy

People from all over the world posted themselves paying it forward, big and small experiences with kind strangers. Collectively, they were really making a difference in the world. This fact was not lost on Matthew’s friends and family, either.

Nic Carlson, one of the passengers in Matthew’s car during the fatal crash, saw it as a perfect tribute to his friend. Speaking to Matthew’s special character, Nic said he “always wanted to make people feel better or fix a problem that they had.”

NBC San Diego

For Jamie-Lynne, it was a cathartic experience to somehow pay back the kindness she received at such a vulnerable moment. Matthew’s Legacy gave her a chance to teach her children the value of good deeds. They saw firsthand one little action can affect people.

Matthew deserved more out of life. However, now thousands of people are following his example and living out the values that he stood for. In that sense, he is very present in the world.

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