MILWAUKEE — After a Milwaukee man was furloughed from his job he was inspired by a social media challenge to make the most of his time.
"I believe kindness is a ripple effect," said Zach Bartlett.
When Zach was furloughed from his job with the Milwaukee Bucks he found himself at home looking for something productive to do. Like many of us, he landed on social media.
"Never in one million years thought I would download TikTok. Never. The first day I was like I’ll download it. I got nothing to do," Zach remembered.
But it was there that Zach learned about the "Venmo Challenge" and became inspired to start one in the Milwaukee area. He called on friends, family, and strangers to donate cash through the Venmo app with the goal of collectively surprising restaurant workers with the money.
Zach shared videos of him surprising workers with hundreds of dollars in tips to show donors their money was helping others and to inspire others to perform acts of kindness.
Zach said donations ranged from a penny to a couple hundred dollars.
"There are so many people that have donated throughout this whole process but just small amounts of kindness and add up to one bigger thing in the long run," said Zach.
After doing 30 surprises for the challenge, Zach thought he was ready to be done and focus on finding a job. The challenge was rewarding but time-consuming.
But then the holidays came up and he received multiple messages from people asking about the next surprise.
"I had people nominate an individual if they wanted to tell me a little bit of a story of what they were going through," said Zach.
Zach and some friends narrowed the candidates down.
A family with five kids got a Playstation 4 with games that were donated. Three other families would get $572 each. Zach delivered the good news through Facetime.
One of the recipients was a man whose wife recently passed away. He had not been able to work as much through the pandemic.
"You just have no idea man. It’s really a blessing. I appreciate it more than you think," the man said on FaceTime.
Nominated by her boyfriend Stephanie La Philliph was stunned to learn she was also a recipient. She is a single mother and bartender who found herself unemployed due to the pandemic and struggling to make ends meet.
"It was pretty much choosing buying presents for the family or putting money towards rent. It’s one thing to morally make the right decision but also you know it’s Christmas and I want my daughter to open gifts and have a great Christmas," said Stephanie.
These gifts won't solve everything, but the relief it offers is priceless.
"It means the world to me. The fact that there are great people out there that kindness is still around," said Stephanie.
"It’s truly incredible. It’s touched me in a lot of ways as well where I honestly can’t even explain all my emotions," said Zach.
Zach is not sure what's next but said you never know what people are going through. He hopes this story will inspire more acts of kindness.
Through the last few months, Zach said he collected nearly $12,000 to give out to others.
You can follow Zach Bartlett and the videos on Facebook and TikTok. Zach's Venmo account is SMBARTLETT 18.