How a pay-it-forward chain at Dunkin’ Donuts made Bangor feel like home

My mother was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer when she was 34 years old.

I was 14 at the time, a freshman in high school, and didn’t fully understand the severity of the situation.

But I knew enough to realize I might lose my mom.

What I didn’t know was how my hometown would come together during my family’s time of need.

My mom and I at the University of Maine Honors College banquet in May 2015.

My mom and I at the University of Maine Honors College banquet in May 2015.

The Thursday before last was much like any other. I woke around 8 on my day off and planned to run some errands but figured I would stop at Dunkin’ Donuts on Broadway first to grab a quick breakfast.

As a new resident of Bangor, I’ve been trying to make this place feel a bit more like the home I moved away from in Aroostook County. Little did I know I was in for a surprise that would brighten my day and remind me of the power of Maine’s communities.

The drive-thru line was long and I debated going inside to order, but instead I took advantage of the downtime and called my mom.

I’m not sure what we discussed. I call her often, and we usually don’t talk about much, but there’s an unspeakable value in that after what my family has been through. Simply being able to check in with her and talk about my plans for the day is worth much more to me than she probably realizes.

It’s one of the things I’m glad I can still look forward to.

I put down the phone as I pulled up to the window to pay.

“Your order has already been paid for,” the woman at the window said with a smile. “The person ahead of you paid it forward.”

I didn’t know what to say at first and simply replied with an, “Oh! That’s so nice!” as she handed me an unsweetened iced tea and breakfast croissant. I had a $5 bill in hand, ready to give to her, so I figured I might as well pay for the person behind me.

“I’ll pay for the person behind me,” I said, handing her the money. Her face lit up as she reached out to take it.

“You’re the ninth person in a row to do it,” she told me. I smiled as I thought about whoever might have started that random act of kindness. I wondered if they would be happy to know that, in that moment, Bangor felt like home.

“The person ahead of me paid for my breakfast,” I said to my mother as I picked the phone back up and pulled over in the parking lot to eat.

“Really?” she asked. “That’s nice of them!”

I couldn’t help but compare my two homes in that moment and think back to the day when my 14-year-old self found out my mom had cancer.

Within a few weeks of her diagnosis, the entire community pulled together to host a benefit supper at the local VFW. It raised thousands of dollars to help my family with medical and travel expenses so she could get the treatment that would save her life.

The same thing happened only days ago, when Zachary Bearor, a young boy battling brain cancer, came home to Island Falls from treatment in Portland with a procession of Island Falls Fire Department and Island Falls Ambulance vehicles escorting him. The Maine State Police joined in as well, letting Zach sit in a trooper’s cruiser. Despite the fact that the community only just found out about Zach’s condition, they’ve already come together and are planning a music event where all donations will go to his family.

The power of community is an incredible thing. It’s what makes Maine’s small towns some of the best places to live.

It’s what helped save my mother’s life.

I hope the person who started that pay-it-forward chain realizes what they actually gave me that day: a sense of community and a sense that, even though Bangor is new to me, I can call it home without hesitation.


Shelby Hartin

About Shelby Hartin

Shelby Hartin was born and raised in southern Aroostook County in a tiny town called Crystal, population 269. After graduating from the University of Maine in May 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in English and Journalism, she relocated to Bangor. She now works at the Bangor Daily News as a customer service representative slash features reporter and is making a new home for herself by discovering what Bangor has to offer. Every week she will do something new and blog about it. It might be attending an art exhibit or checking out a new restaurant. It might be visiting a local museum or going on a tour offered in the area. She’s going to find things that people settling into their home of greater Bangor might enjoy — and she wants your help.