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Originally published December 20, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 20, 2007 at 9:17 PM

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Coffee customers "pay it forward" by paying for those behind

What started as a small gesture of holiday cheer Wednesday, in 24 hours, grew to involve about 500 coffee drinkers in a chain of giving...

Seattle Times staff reporter

What started as a small gesture of holiday cheer Wednesday, in 24 hours, grew to involve about 500 coffee drinkers in a chain of giving in Marysville.

At about 8 a.m. Wednesday, a woman purchasing a drink at a Starbucks drive-through at 3725 116th Street Northeast offered to buy the drinks for the customers in line behind her.

She told the employee who was working the window to wish the folks happy holidays, and she drove away, said the store's assistant manager Michele Case.

Those customers were so touched that they paid for the order of the folks behind them.

Countless gingerbread lattes and peppermint mochas later, the spirit of reciprocity carried on.

As of 8 a.m. today, the line of giving had grown to involve 490 customers picking up tabs for those next in line at the store's drive-through and lobby, said Case.

Case said it shows that a small gesture can have a big impact.

"Each time people were just so excited," Case said. Often people paid more than needed to cover the tab, and that money was added to a pool for the cause. When people were unable to cover others' totals, the pooled money was used.

Any leftover money in the pot will go toward buying toys for the store's toy drive, said Case.

Starbucks spokeswoman Tricia Moriarty said these "infectious" giving acts have been happening across the country — recently, there were all-day giving chains at Starbucks in Pittsburg and in Florida.

Responding to rumblings that the pay-it-forward acts in the area are actually manufactured by the coffee giant's public-relations department rather than its customers, Moriarty said the acts are "100 percent organic."

"In terms of thinking that it's staged ... it truly isn't," Moriarty said. "People are just inspired to do these acts on their own."

Starbucks is, of course, thrilled by those acts, she said.

Tales spread across the Puget Sound about coffee-drinkers warming each others hearts — and tummies — with the buying of beverages.

Kirkland resident Kelly Radcliff was a recipient of another customer's goodwill when she went to a Starbucks drive-through Thursday morning in Issaquah on East Lake Sammamish Parkway Southeast.

She said she didn't think to pay for the people behind her, but instead tipped the barista with what would have been her tab.

Rene Jeffers said the same thing happened to her earlier this week at a Puyallup store on South Meridian Street.

"It truly did put a smile on my face," she said — enough of a smile to do the same for the next person in the drive-through line.

Last year, Starbucks initiated a "Pass the Cheer" campaign urging people to do small things around the holiday season for others.

"These types of things really happen in our stores all the time," Starbucks' Moriarty said.

Christina Siderius: 206-464-2112 or csiderius@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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