Nine months ago, Kenneth Smith was lying outside of an Outback Steakhouse using his yellow backpack as a pillow. He was starving and “at the point of giving up on life.”
That was until he met Laura Hodges, the managing partner of the Fort Worth, Texas, eatery.
It started after a complete stranger had tapped Smith on the shoulder while he was sleeping outside the restaurant to see if he was okay.
“I said I was hungry, starving, and actually looking for someplace to stay,” Smith told Fox News. It’s a struggle he had been facing while living on the streets for the last four to five years.”
The good Samaritan immediately walked into the steakhouse and bought him a $100 gift card to get a hot meal. That very gift card changed the course of his life, according to Smith.
When Smith walked inside he met Hodges, who immediately told him to put the gift card away. Instead, she offered to cover his meals whenever he was hungry.
“I ended up giving him my business card,” Hodges told Fox News. “And I’m like, ‘look, I don’t know if you hang out here very often, but if you ever need a meal or anything like this is my card … just come in any time you just need something to eat … we’re happy to help you.'”
For months Smith came into the restaurant multiple times a week to eat and each time, Hodges got to know a little bit more about him, his life and his story, she said.
About two-and-a-half months ago, she offered him a job as a busser.
“To me, she’s an angel. She’s an angel from up above,” Smith said. “If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t even be here.”
Laura Hodges and Kenneth Smith outside Outback Steakhouse in Fort Worth, Texas. ( Laura Hodges)
Before his first day, Hodges bought Smith his uniform and toiletries and even paid for him to stay the night in a hotel.
“He was able to get clean and all the good stuff and feel good about working the next day,” Hodges said.
Shortly after he began working, Hodges reached out to a community Facebook page, asking for recommendations on motels that he could afford to stay in each night.
“I’ve recently employed a homeless gentleman. He is wonderful and works very hard. He tries to pay for a motel room daily,” she wrote on Facebook in April. “Does anyone know of a motel close by that rents for less than $60 per night. He is just trying to get a fresh start.”
The post blew up, Hodges said. The community rallied behind him and began donating money, clothes, toiletries and even a bike to help him out.
“People just thought it was so great that he was trying and working and [they] wanted to see him do well,” she said. “They just started building a relationship with him.”
People would stop in just to see how Smith was doing, she added. She also gets daily letters sent to her mailbox for him. They are either filled with money or well wishes.
“My post literally just asked if anybody had a hotel recommendation. It never asked for assistance, but that’s the direction they took it.”
However, Hodges acknowledged that this never would have transpired if it weren’t for that good Samaritan offering him the gift card almost a year ago.
“She just wanted to do something that helped someone … I believe that is what just started that ‘pay it forward’ mindset,” Hodges said.
Now Smith is looking out for opportunities to do something nice for someone else, she said.
“I just think that paying it forward mentality [has] just been abundant … in our world right now and our community,” Hodges said.