Losing a home for reasons out of your control can make you feel utterly helpless. Without time to reflect and emotionally prepare to leave a part of yourself behind, it becomes impossible to both deal with the loss while also attempting to move forward. For some, the hurt may never truly go away.
When a South Carolina couple was forced to evacuate before a deadly hurricane swept through their town, it seemed that nothing could shake the dark clouds that hung over their heads. After relocating, however, they discovered someone had left them something completely unexpected — and it made them cry even more.
When news of an incoming hurricane begins stirring the media, most people try to convince themselves that the storm will be manageable enough to ride out. For those in the path of the deadly Hurricane Florence, however, this simply wasn’t an option.
Deemed a Category 4 hurricane in September of 2018, Hurricane Florence was expected to bring 130 mph winds and heavy flooding along the southeastern coast of the United States. Five states declared a state of emergency and ordered mandatory evacuations.
Over a million people were forced to evacuate in preparation for Florence, but of those displaced by the storm, Ashleigh Gilleland and her fiancé David Greer found their journey away from home to be especially difficult.
Residents of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Ashleigh and David were on the fence about abandoning their apartment in favor of staying with family in Sarasota, Florida. But with Ashleigh soon expecting the couple’s first child, they were unwilling to risk the safety of their budding family.
The storm was fast approaching their coastal hometown, leaving them little time to prepare for evacution. Taking only the essentials and a few pairs of clean clothes, the couple hastily sealed up their apartment and hit the road.
The traffic was bumper-to-bumper as Ashleigh and David made the grueling 10-hour, 600-mile trip from Myrtle Beach to Sarasota. As soon as they arrived, Florence made landfall just two hours north of their apartment.
Questions swirled in the couple’s head as every news channel ran around-the-clock coverage of the storm’s destructive path. What would become of their apartment? Where would they go from here? As Florence only seemed to grow in intensity, things looked bleak for Ashleigh and David.
In an attempt to take their minds off the storm, Ashleigh and David turned off the TV and grabbed a bite to eat. The couple decided on Sarasota’s own Wings N Weenies: after all, who could be sad while eating chicken wings?
With their stomachs full and hearts a little lighter, the pair exited the restaurant and headed back to their car. But their relief was short-lived, as a large note stuck to the car’s windshield made their stomachs sink once again.
Naturally, Ashleigh assumed the note was about her park job. Sure, she wasn’t the greatest at parking, but there were definitely much worse parkers out there. But as Ashleigh read the note, her eyes immediately filled with tears.
“[I] saw your license plate is from South Carolina,” the note read. “[I’m] not sure if you evacuated from the storm, but just know Florida is praying for you and your state. When we had [Hurricane] Irma, we evacuated to Alabama and received a similar letter on our car, because [of] our Florida license plate.”
“So I wanted to pass it on… we understand how it feels to evacuate,” the note concluded. As they finished reading, the couple realized that the kind stranger had also left cash and a Walmart gift card!
Never had the couple experienced such kindness from a stranger before, and they knew they couldn’t let this good deed go unnoticed. Rushing home, Ashleigh took to Facebook to share the amazing discovery with her friends.
“This just made my day,” Ashleigh wrote. “I’m so happy to know there are still great people in the world.” But as news of Ashleigh’s good fortune spread throughout her friend group, she never expected how far the post would reach.
After only a few days, Ashleigh’s post went viral, accumulating 9,000 likes and over 10,000 shares. The thrill of Ashleigh’s sudden fame helped relieve some of her worry over the state of affairs back home, but it was an unexpected message from a fellow Facebook user that really took the experience to a whole new level.
Chelsey Tokan, an elementary school teacher from Fort Worth, Florida, reached out to Ashleigh to let her know that she was the one that wrote the note. Contacting her directly, Chelsey wanted to reiterate why she had acted so kindly in the first place.
“The thing that got me through [Hurricane Irma] was the kindness of everyone in and out of my state,” Chelsey explained in her messages with Ashleigh. “Just knowing people really do care makes some things so devastating feel so small! A simple act of kindness can really turn someone’s day around.”
Chelsey’s words sparked a conversation between the two women, and Ashleigh took the opportunity to thank her personally for the note and gift. “I wish I could’ve met you, and I wish I could have returned the favor,” the 21-year-old wrote. “Just know, I will be paying it forward and will be keeping this chain going!”
Ashleigh soon shared their conversation online. This time, however, Ashleigh began attracting attention from news media outlets, with even Fox News reaching out about her story.
“I was overwhelmed and automatically [started] thinking about how I could pay it forward for someone else,” Ashleigh told Fox News. “The smallest gestures can make the biggest impacts on people’s lives.”