She was crying.
The young cashier had just started her job that week at Garcia’s on San Mateo NE, and she had made a rookie mistake.
The customer was not having it. Find a new job, he yelled. You’re being rude.
She wasn’t, a manager who saw the incident noted in a report. But she was shaken and in tears.
That same day, a woman screamed obscenities over missing four sopaipillas in her order. Another customer grabbed his food and sped away from the takeout window without paying.
Across town at the Golden Crown Panaderia on Mountain NW, co-owner Chris Morales had rude customers of his own.
“I don’t know how to put this, but today broke my heart,” he vented on social media. “I don’t understand why people get so upset.”
Because of COVID-19, Morales had been forced to shut down patio and indoor seating, and enforce a mask rule, though the bakery/restaurant was still selling its famed breads, pizzas and biscochitos to go. In the early days of the pandemic, it had even started selling yeast, then a scarce commodity.
But one customer was angry over the dine-in restrictions. He flung his pastry at Morales, shouted a litany of obscenities and screamed his hope that the business would go broke.
“The whole team at Golden Crown has dealt with this same kind of response (and) it is getting very tiring,” Morales wrote. “We never signed up to be yelled at week in and week out. We have done our best to adjust to this new COVID world. I am headed home with a very heavy heart and I just don’t know what to do any more.”
But Angel Chabai did.
The Albuquerque woman said she had heard of the nastiness endured by servers, cashiers, clerks and others who had been forced to become pandemic police, all while making less money, being at higher risk of exposure to the virus and bearing the brunt of customers’ frustrations.
Chabai had also heard of the Venmo Challenge, a national campaign started in May on TikTok – a video-sharing social networking service – that asks users to donate as little as 50 cents via Venmo, a mobile payment app, until a sufficient amount is collected and then given to a worthy waiter.
If I lost you with that explanation, suffice it to say that it’s a 2020 way of encouraging people to painlessly pool their resources to benefit struggling service industry workers with a little extra cash and a little extra kindness.
Since then, thousands of challenges have sprung up across the country. Last month, for instance, Las Cruces businesswomen Christi Getz and Jenny Nowlin surprised a waiter with $2,000 from their Big Tip Tuesday challenge. Waiter Abdulai Ismail of the ¡Ãndele! Restaurant told the Las Cruces Sun-News that the business shutdown had made it hard for him to afford rent or college tuition. The tip was a much-needed blessing, he told the newspaper.
Chabai said she might not be able to raise as much as the Las Cruces businesswomen had, but to her what mattered was the effort to show more kindness.
“I have seen people treated poorly, and I was just tired of the negativity, so I wanted to see what I could do to make things more positive,” she said. “Even if it wasn’t a lot, I figured that every little bit I raised could help.”
On Aug. 30, Chabai launched her Albuquerque Tip Fundraiser, opting to use Facebook as her platform so that her friends could invite their friends to join. Besides food service employees, she also expanded the types of beneficiaries to local musicians, artists, nonprofits, animal rescues and first responders, and she asked members to nominate recipients and then vote for the one to receive the money at the end of the month.
“I wanted this to be like we are all in this together,” she said.
In September, she and about 30 friends raised $300, all of which the group decided should go to Golden Crown Panaderia.
“Thanks for working hard for your business, employees and customers during a difficult time,” Chabai wrote in an accompanying card.
Morales and his crew were overwhelmed.
“I am trying to hold back the tears of joy from the appreciation they are showing us,” he later wrote on social media.
But Chabai said Morales wasn’t very successful with holding back tears – and neither was she.
“This was the greatest thing,” she gushed to the Albuquerque Tip group. “Y’all, thanks for making it happen.”
Word of Albuquerque Tip’s good deed was aired on KOB-TV and the Jackie, Tony and Donnie show on 100.3 The Peak radio. The publicity brought in more members and more donations.
In October, the group listed 153 members and raised $800, which it voted to split evenly four ways, including $200 apiece to Pawsitive Life Rescue of New Mexico and The Farmacy restaurant in Nob Hill.
The group also used a quarter of the tip to purchase enough pizzas from Village Pizza West Side to feed the crews at three fire stations.
The final $200 went to Jasmine, the rookie cashier at Garcia’s. This time, her tears were happy ones.
Jasmine is now a member of the Albuquerque Tip group.
Doing the challenge has proven that Chabai was right – a little effort can yield lots of goodwill.
“Every time I’ve done this, the people have been beyond grateful,” she said. “I worry sometimes that what we give is not enough, and I wish it could be more, but any amount brings people to the verge of tears. This world is so negative and rude these days. But these little tips make it a little less so. It doesn’t cost much to make someone’s day, and this has shown me that doing that makes my day and the group’s day, too.”
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.