July 31, 2012— -- When Seth Collins, 32, and his family decided to follow the instructions in his late brother's will to leave a $500 tip for a restaurant server, he had no idea it would lead to a contagion in donations that is clocking at $48,000 and counting.
After his younger brother, Aaron, died on July 7 of unknown causes, his family found a will on his computer. Besides leaving instructions about what to do with a couple of his possessions like his motorcycle and artwork, he told his family: "Third, leave an awesome tip (and I don't mean 25%. I mean $500 on a ... pizza)."
Seth Collins, 32, his younger sisters and his parents decided to make a website for friends and family to contribute to Aaron's last wish.
As his family awaits the coroner's report, they are honoring their brother by going to restaurants, usually together or with friends.
Three weeks later, the website, AaronCollins.org, has raised $48,000, all of which will be distributed in $500 tips to restaurant servers.
The Collins family has given away six tips in cash, or $3,000, as of Monday.
"He was a generous guy and it's one of the reasons he didn't leave the money to do it himself," Seth Collins said. "I don't think Aaron would have collected that much money before he gave it away. If he had extra money and friends came over, he would take friends out to dinner."
Collins said his younger brother was known to give big tips, though not in the scope of $500, leaving a $50 tip for a meal of chicken wings and beer at Buffalo Wild Wings once, for example.
Aaron's best friend was a waitress for a large part of her life while she was a student and Aaron had "seen what it was like for her," with low pay and hours on her feet, he said.
The Collins family chooses a restaurant at random by what they are in the mood to eat and the frequency of the visits varies. Sometimes his parents, Tina and Gerney, prefer to cook dinner at home.
"Some weeks I may be able to take a break from going out to eat," he said.
The six restaurants were mostly in Lexington, Ky., though they have also left large tips in two restaurants within an hour's drive.
The family intentionally went to a pizza restaurant for the first tip, as Aaron specified.
"As far as the server, we show up at the restaurant and whatever table we're seated at. We don't do anything other than that," Collins said.
The recipient of the second tip was Chelsea Powell, a server at an Italian restaurant, Bella Notte, in Kentucky.
Powell, a college student with three jobs, was reluctant to accept the money, asking, "Are you kidding?" and "What?" several times. Tears, smiles, and hugs are common responses from the servers.
"He sounds like an awesome guy," Powell said in the video the Collins recorded.
Collins added that his family decided to leave a tip no matter the quality of service.
"No one has recognized us," Collins said when asked if servers are vying to wait their table. "A couple of them had heard of it, but they weren't aware that it was me."
When asked what he has learned, Collins said, "It doesn't seem to be about the money."
"It's about the random kindness -- that unexpected kindness from a stranger, not just people who have gotten the money, but people who have watched it. And I think that really surprised me."