“I was really shocked, but I believe in the goodness of people and I believe if you touch their heart, in some way, they’ll come together.”
When Elizabeth Rizzo first saw an 82-year-old woman holding a cane and working at an Arizona Walmart, she wondered why she was still working at her age. She didn’t know that days later, she would help change that employee’s life forever.
After learning that the Walmart employee, Carman Kelly, was working to pay off about $10,000 in medical debt and only had $50 in her bank account at the time, Rizzo made a TikTok video about her situation.
The video posted by Rizzo, who goes by @rustywarrenkockersupgal on TikTok, has since gone viral and has been viewed more than 15 million times. The GoFundMe fundraiser she created and shared with her followers has raised more than $129,000 for Kelly — surpassing the initial goal by thousands.
“I was surprised at the amount we were able to fundraise,” Rizzo tells TODAY.com. “I was really shocked, but I believe in the goodness of people and I believe if you touch their heart, in some way, they’ll come together.”
Rizzo has kept Kelly updated throughout her fundraising efforts and the two have formed a close friendship.
Following the first video she posted, she told Kelly she raised about $5,000 and recorded another TikTok video sharing the news.
“You’re their new grandma!” Rizzo said in the video as she told a shocked Kelly the news. “Will you be able to retire after this?” Rizzo asked.
“I hope so!” Kelly responded.
That’s when the donations continued to flood in.
“With the second video, it just went crazy,” Rizzo says. “I was not planning this, I just felt moved to do this.”
Rizzo has also continued to record her interactions with Kelly and shares them with her TikTok community. Kelly’s family also got notice of the fundraising, reached out and shared photos of the family with Rizzo.
In the final fundraiser reveal, Kelly tells Rizzo that she is indeed changing her life and says she can’t thank her enough.
“There isn’t enough words to tell you how I feel,” Kelly told Rizzo during the reveal. “It isn’t just about me, it’s what the meaning of all this is and I really feel that. It’s about joy.”
Living only 20 minutes from each other, the two are now good friends and Rizzo says she sees Kelly as her own grandmother. She lost her own grandmother at a young age, but before she passed, she taught her lessons of giving.
She recalls walking down the streets of New York City when she was a little girl and her grandmother telling her to move any rocks she saw to the side of the street so an elderly person wouldn’t trip over it. Rizzo said her grandmother taught her to be kind to people no matter who they were and it’s that same lesson that inspired her to give back to Kelly.
“My grandmother died when I was 15 and she was my rock,” she says. “I always wished I had my grandmother growing up. You know, Carman is my new grandmother. I didn’t know it would take until I was 68 years old to get my grandma back.”
Rizzo is proud of how the TikTok community came together to fundraise for Kelly. She finds it special that strangers have convinced others to donate to the campaign.
“We have to do small and random acts of kindness for each other,” Rizzo says. “It’s not about money. It’s about the spirit of giving and caring for each other.”
Rizzo is overwhelmed by the amount of attention that her TikTok videos and the story has gotten over the past couple of days. She says she went from about 125 followers to about 127,000 followers in the span of the week because of her fundraising efforts.
Kelly wasn’t available to be interviewed by TODAY.com at press time.
This also isn’t the first time this has happened with elderly Walmart employees, as other TikTok creators have been filming workers in need and setting up fundraisers using the trend #TikTokWalmartRetiree.
Kelly will still work at Walmart because she loves her job, but plans to cut back on hours, according to Rizzo. She also plans to buy a new house in the near future.
Rizzo’s main goal is to be sure that all of the funds she has raised end up going directly to Kelly and she intends to set up a trust in her name so that she receives every last dollar.
“I never dreamed this would happen,” she says. “I think this is something not just for Carman, but for all of us too, to carry on in the world to do good.”