Keshia Dotson was having breakfast at an IHOP in Springfield, Illinois, when she noticed something that touched her heart. One of the waiters had sat down at a table with a couple and was feeding the wife, who was having difficulty feeding herself.
When Keshia learned the story behind the kind act, she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She shared a photo of the touching moment on Facebook, where it has since gone viral.
“Dale and Ma” having been coming to IHOP every Saturday morning for years. Joe Thomas, who has worked as a waiter there for nearly 12 years, would watch as Dale assisted his wife with her utensils while his food would grow cold.
Ma suffers from Huntington’s disease, a rare inherited disorder that affects the nerve cells in the brain, impacting movement and cognition. While she can pick up finger foods, like grapes and apple slices, she has difficulty using a knife and fork.
Ever the kind and patient husband, Dale put his own breakfast on hold every morning to help his wife eat hers. That is until Joe decided to do something about it.
About five years ago Joe jumped in to help, telling Dale, “I’ve got this.” Now, every Saturday, he sits with the couple and helps Ma finish her meal.
“I have always helped out people regardless of whoever, whatever,” Joe said when asked about his sweet act of kindness.
In fact, Joe used to work as a rehab technician, helping cognitively and developmentally disabled individuals transition into independent-living situations. He also cared for his mother, who suffered from diabetes, until she passed away 10 years ago.
Keshia, who works as the adult programs and outreach coordinator for the Rochester Library in Rochester, Illinois, said she and her staff are always striving to have a good impact on the community, so when she saw Joe serving the couple she wanted to share his story.
“We also try and do the same in our personal lives, which is in part what prompted me to take the photo,” she said, adding, “My motive in posting the photo was to try and help recognize the waiter to his company. I typically try and reach out when I experience or observe good customer service.”
Stephanie Peterson, a spokesperson for IHOP, said the company was “touched by Thomas’s kind act.”
“From everything we’ve heard about Joe, it is in his nature to go above and beyond for his guests and this gesture simply reflects who he is,” she said. “As a brand, we are incredibly proud of the heartwarming moments like this that take place in our restaurants every day.”
Joe has received a lot of praise for his selfless actions and has even been approached about a future in nursing. He said he would love to go back to work as a rehab technician one day, but in the meantime he plans to continue helping Dale and Ma.
“They’re a beautiful couple,” he said. “Beautiful people.”