Melissa Wharton is literally paying it forward. The Greensburg woman was in line at a restaurant drive-thru window when a person in a car in front of her paid for her order. She marveled that someone would do that without knowing her. Melissa Wharton is literally paying it forward. The Greensburg woman was in line at a restaurant drive-thru window when a person in a car in front of her paid for her order. She marveled that someone would do that without knowing her.
“I didn’t need my food to be paid for,” she said, “but I did need that smile that day.”
At work at her Wharton Curtis technology, publishing and creative agency in Forest Hills, she hatched a plan with her colleagues to pay it forward to the tune of $35,000 in gas, groceries and more throughout the summer, at a time when inflation, COVID-19 and other pressures are creating more need.
Employees started the giveaways Friday, distributing cash at Kuhn’s Market in Wilkins and Trader Joe’s in East Liberty, then giving gas cards for July 4 weekend travel to drivers at Bakery Square and Regent Square.
Wharton Curtis plans to continue the random giveaways every other Friday though Labor Day — at other stores, parks and places — and is inviting the public to get into the act.
People can nominate another household or households to be entered in a drawing for a grand prize: up to $6,000 of rent or mortgage payments from October through December. The firm will pick the winner the week of Sept. 5, streaming it live on Wharton Curtis’ Facebook page, where it’s teasing clues to where employees will be giving out the cards.
Ethan Obenreder, of Verona, and his mother were surprised while checking out at Trader Joe’s; their free groceries meant more to him than helping them at a tough time.
“My heart goes out to everyone who is struggling, but I’m optimistic that we’ll get through this — and their act of kindness was a reminder for us to pay it forward as well,” he said.
Also enjoying the effort are some of the 50 Wharton Curtis employees, such as Brittany Absher.
“Our last grocery order of the day was my favorite, honestly,” Ms. Absher said in an email. “It was our largest order — little over $300 for a family with young kids. They almost didn’t believe us that there were no strings attached. (We actually had to convince a lot of people of that.) But they were so thrilled once we explained it all, and it made our day to be able to buy their groceries for the week.”
On the first day, she said, they gifted 79 people and families with about $3,000 total for groceries and 35 gas cards worth $50 each, and they invited all the recipients to nominate people for the grand prize.
To nominate someone and learn more, visit Wharton Curtis’ website.
Ms. Wharton — a Penn Hills High School graduate, former Bucknell University volleyball star and gospel singer — said, “We had a great time” launching the giveaways.
“I’m glad we’re in a position to do this,” she said.
She hopes that what she’s starting continues beyond September with other groups and individuals. As she puts it, “I think most of us are kind, genuine people that want to help where we can.”