Begun in 1995, Random Acts of Kindness Week was established by the foundation of the same name to inspire people to make an everyday difference in their communities. Although the individual impact can be tremendous, the news of those acts are, by their very nature, typically kept quiet. This year, Monday, Feb. 14, through Sunday, Feb. 20, was designated Random Acts of Kindness Week nationally.
For Justine Warnstrom and her husband Steve, who is the owner-operator of the Mall of Georgia Chick-fil-A, random acts of kindness are more common than once a year.
The Warnstroms opened the Mall of Georgia restaurant in May 2001, and Steve is celebrating 30 years as a CFA operator. Their personal and professional acts of kindness have often gone unnoticed, by design, as the humble couple has graciously served without any desire of fanfare, yet they’ve made a concerted effort to use their store to invest in the people of the community through volunteering in schools, fundraising, teacher appreciation events, providing scholarships and various other means of outreach.
“During the pandemic, Steve saw a need and initiated a new position, director of care, a hospitality position, modeling all of our highest standards of guest service,” said Justine, who serves as the marketing director for the restaurant.
Steve hired Chris Holcombe to fill the position.
“For our team, Chris is a listening ear and a resource for any team member who might need to talk about some of the challenges they are facing or feeling or just to talk through various situations they are dealing with,” Justine said. “If needed, Chris is our resident chaplain.”
Having just recently reopened the restaurant dining room, the drive-thru in particular has been a steady hotbed of random acts of kindness as one car “pays it forward,” paying for the meal of the customers in the vehicle behind them.
“That can happen any given day,” Justine said. “I think our longest streak was close to 30 cars paying for the person behind them.”
A frequent, faithful Chick-fil-A customer is Jana Strickland. A native of Arkansas, Jana now lives in Cumming, attends North Point Church and works as a recruiter.
When pressed about how many times she had “paid it forward” in a drive-thru, Strickland reluctantly admitted to having done so more than 30 times. Strickland wasn’t even aware it was Random Acts of Kindness Week.
“It’s hard for me to think of there being a special time for giving,” she said. “People are in need every day, and you just never know where someone is in their life or what that one act of kindness may do for them.”
Jana said she learned that her love language is acts of service. When she was a teenager in Arkansas, her Christmas story was featured on a Little Rock TV station when she took the money she received for Christmas and went to her local J.C. Penney and bought clothing and toys for some people who lived in a neighborhood on the less fortunate side of town.
“That’s just who I am and have always been,” Jana said. “I believe it’s important to be an acts of service person because you just never know what someone is going through — even someone behind me in line driving a Mercedes. You just don’t know and can’t judge a book by its cover.”
The perennial giver, in June 2009, Jana found herself as the one in need.
Jana had been married to Sean for 10-and-a-half years. Sean worked as the CIO for In Touch Ministries and was formerly the director of technology for North Point Ministries. They had a beautiful 7-year-old daughter.
“We had gone home to Arkansas, and Gabi and I stayed while Sean came back for work,” Jana shared. “I got a call from a police chaplain, telling me to go to my sister’s house. I knew it was bad.”
Jana said nothing could prepare her for the devastating news she was about to learn.
Sean was driving on Highway 9 just outside Fowler Park in Cumming when he crossed the center line and hit a tree truck head on. Sean died instantly.
“When Sean passed away, I was furious that my husband was killed, and I wanted to know what happened. I wanted answers,” Jana said. “I went to the firehouse and told them I wanted to see pictures — to show me everything and explain how this could happen. Why did my husband die?”
She said the captain kindly suggested that she come back the next day.
“So I slept on it. I realized seeing those photos wouldn’t give me my ‘why’. I decided to cook those firefighters a nice steak dinner the next day instead. I fixed steaks and baked potatoes and took a meal up to the fire station.”
Her grief was more than she could bear, but it was in serving others that she found a place of healing. Sean had left some insurance money, and though she did purchase some things for herself and Gabi, Jana said it was how she blessed others that helped her cope with the crippling grief.
“My sister and brother-in-law had always struggled financially,” Jana said. “After Sean died, God laid it on my heart to buy them new vehicles. I walked into the Toyota dealership and told them I wanted a black Toyota Camry and a black Toyota Tundra, and I want to pay this much for it, not a penny more, and I was paying cash. We drove home and surprised them with two brand new cars, fully paid for. They were blown away because they never had a decent car to drive before then. And I was thrilled to be able to do that for them.”
How did she survive?
“Three letters: G-O-D,” she said. “And I promised myself I would get up every morning to take care of Gabi.”
Seeing the intrinsic reward of blessing others, when she saw a need, Jana took pleasure in serving.
“I like to do things privately, but I’ve had people chase me down to say thank you, and that’s a huge blessing to me,” she said.
Across the parking lot from the drive-thru lane, Chris Holcombe helped a customer change a tire in the parking lot, while an elderly guest was having trouble finding his niece’s apartment. Knowing it would be difficult for this man to find, Steve Warnstrom got in his own car and had the elderly man follow him, delivering him safely to his niece.
“But we don’t do those things for others to know,” Justine said. “It’s the joy of service and acts of kindness that make it special to sell a chicken sandwich and have the opportunity to do those things for people in our community.
“It raises our collective consciousness to act with kindness and care to those around us,” she said. “Everybody has a story, and you just don’t know the impact a kind word or gesture can have on a person you come in contact with.”