PITTSBURG — Everyone already knows Brandon Stephenson as the “straw guy,” but now he’s known for something sweet — and no, he’s not giving away free sodas or cinnamon twists.
Brandon, who works at Taco Bell, has been a social media sensation with 21 thousand reactions, over 300 comments and 7.5 K shares of a post shared by Pittsburg resident Amanda Vanderford. Amanda said she shared what she experienced because more positive things should be shared in the world.
“I was floored when I saw all of the shares and likes,” Amanda said. “There were people from California, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.”
Amanda said in her post, that while she was eating dinner Thursday at Taco Bell, Brandon purchased food for a homeless man, and then took time to have a conversation with the him.
“He asked if he could help this guy real quick and then he said, ‘Hey sir, would you like to sit down, I’d like to get you food,’” she said later in a phone interview. “The guy said ‘thank you’ and he [Brandon] even gave him his extra change.”
“He said, ‘I know it’s not enough to fill up, but it’s enough to go in your stomach, I know what it feels like to go hungry.’”
Taco Bell General Manager Celeste Baker’s phone was “blowing up,” she said.
People were asking if she knew about the good deed her employee did.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Celeste said, adding, “he’s always been so positive.”
Celeste walked in to the restaurant and handed him a gift card and said, “You’re famous again.”
But he didn’t know why.
His phone wasn’t on him, but boy did he find out when he checked his Facebook messages.
“I was shocked,” he said. “There were messages and friend requests from about 50 people, some came from Australia and Ireland.”
“I know how it is to feel down on your luck,” Brandon said as his reason for helping the man out.
Brandon purchased food for the man with his last $3 and told him where he can find resources to “move up in life,” along with asking how the man ended up homeless.
“He moved away from his family to start his life over,” Brandon said.
Brandon said he encourages to get to know people, rather than “judging a book by its cover.”
“Talk to them and see how they ended up there and try to help them a little if you can,” he said.
His kind nature came from watching his grandmother, Kelly Parker, help other people.
“When I was living with my grandma — she passed away in 2015 — she always helped other people,” Brandon said. “I always looked up to her because she was very helpful to other people, so I wanted to help other people who are in more need than I am.”
Many people in the community thought Brandon’s act of kindness should not go unseen or unrewarded.
Headed by Michael Fienen, a small group of people surprised Brandon on Monday.
Michael and his wife, along with Ginger Cawley from Hampton Inn and Suites at Kansas Crossing Casino and Celeste surprised Brandon when he stepped behind the counter, unknowing of the surprise and ready to go for his shift.
They gathered around the counter and began with the first gift, cupcakes from Sweet Designs Cakery. Brandon smiled and began to thank everyone — however there was more gifts to come.
Ginger gave Brandon a free night’s stay at the Hampton Inn and Suites at the Kansas Crossing Casino. Brandon face began to betray his emotions, yet there was one more special gift.
“Now I was told you have a little bit of a truck problem, I hope we can hope we can help out with that,” Michael said as he laid a check for $1,145 on the counter.
“That’s yours to do whatever you want, fix your truck, buy your family a nice dinner, go buy some games, go see some movies. That’s your reward from us for doing what you do.”
Brandon said he didn’t expect all of the recognition.
“I really do appreciate this guys,” he said. “I just try to live life one step at a time and just to try to have fun with life.
“And when I see people down on their luck I just want to help them.
“But sometimes I do not have money to help them, I know people who do have money to help them, but they do not want any recognition from it. So if you are those type of people, good for you, keep doing it, you’re just making this place a better place. Just do you.”
Brandon said in response to receiving all of the comments and “thank you’s” that he must have made “a little difference.”
“I made a little difference, not a big difference but a little, any kind of difference would be appreciated by anybody,” he said.
Brandon is also being recognized by the company he’s working for by sharing his story in the company magazine, his general manager came to him with the approval, giving him a quick scare.
“I was shocked when she called me, I thought I was in trouble,” he said.
Michael said he felt compelled to do something for Brandon.
“I did it because I didn’t want people to ever have to ask why,” Michael said. “It shouldn't be weird that we recognize people for doing good things, that shouldn’t be weird or unusual that should be the way we work and operate … and that’s what Brandon did, I can’t not recognize that.”
The Straw Game
The straw thief, that’s what people call him. He loves to tease people by playing a small game of “keep-away” with their straws.
It’s a game Brandon started to make people happy and pass the time while waiting on their food.
“When I was younger, every time I went through the drive through I always thought it was so boring and this one guy made it interesting,” he said. “He would talk with the customers and joke around while they were waiting for food.
“I thought that was pretty cool and I forgot about it completely … then I started working here and I was at the drive through and it popped in my head and I thought, I’ll give that a try.”
Whether he does it or not depends on people’s moods, although regardless he hopes to make the customer’s happy.
“When I do play the game I usually start off saying, ‘How are you? And they will say, I’m good how are you? And I’ll crack off with a joke like, “I’m taco-riffic, yes I know it’s kinda cheesy, but let’s taco-bout it,’” he said. “They laugh and I play the straw game a little. If they don’t laugh I just give them a drink.”
Brandon is a 2017 Frontenac High School graduate. During high school he played football (defensive tackle) and his nickname was “Diesel.”
“What made me real upset my senior year, we were two games from winning the championship but we lost by one point,” he said.
Brandon has two older brothers and a little sister. When he’s not at work he hangs out with his brothers or plays video games.
Brandon said he always has a “taco-riffic” day at Taco Bell, but if he were to have his dream job it would be in culinary arts making Indian or Japanese foods.
“I pretty much go one step at a time, what comes next, comes next,” he said.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. To nominate someone for Patrick's People send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org