pumpkin spice latte

When Alyssa O’Neill died unexpectedly at 18 from an epileptic seizure, her death set in motion an epic pay-it-forward initiative based on her last request. Apparently, O’Neill requested a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, but passed away before she could have it.

After O’Neill died, her parents wanted to perform an act of kindness to honor her, and went and bought 40 Pumpkin Spice Lattes for a Starbucks full of strangers. The baristas wrote “AJO” (O’Neill’s initials) on the cups, and were moved enough to buy another 50 lattes for the remaining customers.

This has inspired a massive pay-it-forward campaign in her hometown of Erie, PA that has gone viral and spread internationally. Facebook and twitter is being flooded with photos of Starbucks coffee cups with #AJO written on them to signify that they were bought for a stranger.

O’Neill’s father, Jason, says that the campaign has spread way past coffee cups, and that “[p]eople have been paying others’ Christmas layaways and buying meals.” The campaign has also expanded to increase awareness around epilepsy, and the O’Neills started a scholarship fund to help families who deal with epilepsy.

When I first saw this story, I thought it was going to be some horrible attempt by Starbucks to capitalize on this girl’s tragic death. In fact, given how much white ladies love pumpkin spice lattes, Starbucks’ marketing team is probably chomping at the bit to get involved. But my jaded self was deemed wrong and Starbucks did not, in fact, turn this into some sort of viral marketing campaign. In fact, this is just a really lovely story of strangers all over the world showing some kindness to honor a memory.

Photo: Starbucks Facebook