— -- When a man who appeared to be in need walked into Mark Meadows’ Alabama Chick-fil-A, Meadows does what he has done many times before. He asked how he could help.
“We made eye contact and I asked him what would he like, what we could do for him and then he said – he asked if he could do some work to get something to eat,” Meadows, the owner-operator of the Chick-fil-A franchise on Highway 280, told ABC News in a Monday interview.
Meadows told the man that he would give him a meal on the house. Meadows doesn’t know whether the man was homeless, but said he was carrying many garbage bags and "looked, maybe, like he had most of his possessions with him."
Meadows also noticed that the man wasn’t wearing gloves and his hands appeared to be cold. On that day – Wednesday – Birmingham was experiencing a cold snap, with temperatures down to the upper 30s, according to AccuWeather.com.
Meadows, who has operated his Chick-fil-A for 25 years, asked the stranger whether he had any gloves. The man said he didn’t.
“I said, ‘Take my gloves,’ and when I went and got them … he was kind of taken aback, like he didn’t want to take them,” Meadows said.
Eventually, the man accepted the gloves.
“He thanked me, put the gloves on and you could tell that they felt good,” Meadows said. “They had that fur inside of them and – they were nice gloves, and he took the gloves and the food and he left and that was it.”
But that wasn’t it. Andrea Stoker and her son, Bryson, were in the restaurant and saw the entire exchange.
“And after the gentleman left she came up to me and she was in tears, and she had her son with her and she was telling me how much she appreciated what I did and she was using that as a teaching moment for her son,” Meadows said, adding that Stoker mentioned that she wanted to share what had happened on Facebook.
“I thought that’s fine, OK …,” he said.
Stoker, who believed Meadows was the store’s manager, posted her account of the incident on Thursday, writing: “A man walked in to get warm with all of his earthly possessions on his back. The manager, who is on his break, got up and asked the man if he could get him anything. Before the man could even answer, the manager asked if the man had any gloves and handed him his, then got him the meal of his choice. There is still so much good in this world and I'm so grateful that Bryson saw it all unfold.”
Unbeknown to Meadows, Stoker had also snapped a photo of Meadows and the man holding the gloves he’d just received. As of Monday night, the photo had been liked more than 78,000 times on Chick-fil-A’s corporate Facebook page.
Meadows is struck by the power of social media but isn’t very comfortable with the consequences.
“I don’t particularly like the attention or the notoriety or the popularity or whatever else,” he said.
He said he felt compelled to help the man in need because “It was the right thing to do.”
Indeed, his staffers have been instructed to help anyone who asks for food, he said.
“I’ve given food and I’ve put gas in people’s car but I will not give them cash,” he said, describing the ways he’s helped out. “I draw the line at cash because I don’t know what’s going to happen with it … .”
Meadows last year extended his generosity to drivers who had been stranded by a Jan. 28 ice and snowstorm in Birmingham. He served up hundreds of free sandwiches and more than 1,000 biscuits.
Those people were “very, very appreciative,” Meadows said.
People on Facebook praised Meadows’ actions toward the needy man.
“I wish I could ‘like’ this a million times!!! What a wonderful example of showing God's love to another,” Deborah Lafayette wrote.
Kristen Mason Wade added: “Warmed my heart! Chick-fil-a is AWESOME!!”