LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — This is a sweet story about Waffle House and one of its employees -- and we’re not talking about syrup.
An Arkansas second-grader’s kindness -- and his love for the restaurant -- is helping a server at the breakfast chain get a car and help his family out of financial difficulties.
Kayzen Hunter, 8, of Little Rock, spearheaded a GoFundMe campaign for Waffle House server Devonte Gardner, KTHV-TV reported. The fundraising effort, which began on Feb. 18, has already raised more than $83,000 for Gardner, his wife and two young daughters.
The boy’s mother, Vittoria Hunter, said she and her family are regulars every weekend at the Waffle House in Little Rock. The family requests to sit in the section where Gardner works, according to The Washington Post.
“He’s the nicest person ever,” Vittoria Hunter told the newspaper.
“Devonte is just a really nice person,” Kayzen told KTHV. “Really good guy. Super nice to everyone he meets.”
Gardner, 29, said that is his goal when he interacts with customers.
“I come with a positive attitude. I treat everybody with positivity,” Gardner told the television station. “I love to see everybody smile.”
The family met Gardner about a year ago, Vittoria Hunter told “Today.”
Kayzen Hunter, 8, stepped in to help when he learned that his friend, Waffle House waiter Devonte Gardner, was living in a motel with his wife and children. https://t.co/7dzg2Fzw7T— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) March 2, 2023
“My dad (John Donofrio) started going and Kayzen would go with him,” she said. “When he came home, he talked about Devonte and how much he liked him.”
Several months ago during a Waffle House visit with Donofrio, Kayzen learned about Gardner’s financial problems.
“Devonte said he wondered if anyone might know where he could buy a cheap car,” Kayzen told the Post. “He’d been having a hard time saving for one.”
The boy and his grandfather also learned that Gardner walked several miles daily to work and had been living in a motel room the past eight months with his wife, Aissa Shorter, and daughters Jade, 3, and Amoura, 2, according to the newspaper. Gardner said they had to move out of an apartment that was infested with rats and was filled with black mold.
“We wanted to find something affordable, so we moved into a low-income area,” Gardner told “Today.” “We just got tired of infestations with rats and roaches and all this black mold. My daughters were getting sick. No heat and things like that. When it was cold outside, we had to bundle up with like four or five blankets in order to stay warm.”
“It was just horrible.”
Gardner told KTHV that he used his salary and tips went toward his family and the $60 daily motel bill.
“It’s just eating my pocket alive,” Gardner told the television station.
Kayzen decided to create a GoFundMe, and after pestering his mother for several weeks, Vittoria Hunter agreed, setting a modest goal of $5,000 on Feb. 18.
“He kept saying, ‘We have to start a GoFundMe and help Devonte get a car,’” Vittoria Hunter told the Post. “He didn’t give up on it. He’s a kid with a big heart.”
The fundraising effort has attracted more than 2,200 people pledging upwards of $83,000 as of Saturday afternoon.
Gardner told “Today” that he just signed a lease on a two-bedroom apartment thanks to Kayzen’s efforts. He moved into the apartment on Friday, Gardner told MSNBC in a Saturday interview.
“I will be moving into my apartment very soon. We’re able to have something more stable,” Gardner said, adding that he hopes to buy a sedan or minivan with the money that has been raised.
Gardner said he was overwhelmed with the outpouring of donations.
“I started crying -- I’d been quietly struggling and didn’t want to ask anybody for anything,” Gardner told the Post.
His wife was recently hired at an area McDonald’s, and they work opposite shifts so they can care for their daughters, according to the newspaper.
An 8-year-old, and regular at a Little Rock Waffle House, is showing us how he's an all-star by raising money to help out his favorite server and friend. https://t.co/eLTn7fSfeu— THV11 (@THV11) February 24, 2023
Now, their financial burden is going to be lifted.
“It’s exciting,” Kayzen told “Today.”
Still, the boy has received national attention and was being interviewed on MSNBC along with Gardner on Saturday, his mother said.
“He brings me joy every day,” Gardner told MSNBC in an interview on Saturday.
“I mean, he’s still 8, you know?” Hunter says. “The other morning, he said, ‘I was just trying to maybe make $5,000 and get him a car.’ Now, it’s turned into a crowd. We had no clue that this was going to happen.”
“That’s the crazy part to us,” the boy’s father, Korey Hunter, 37, told “Today.” “I get it, but the goal was $5,000 and people do not care what the goal was; they keep giving and giving.”
“Kayzen does not, you know, not want anything in return,” he told KTHV. “Just wants other people to pay it forward.”
Kayzen, meanwhile, is happy simply to help out.
“It just feels good to help someone else,” he told the television station.
“Positivity is contagious,” Gardner told MSNBC on Saturday.