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'Finally something good' | Muskegon restaurant grateful for mystery gift giver

The COVID-19 pandemic has been rough on restaurants, but the kindness of a stranger has given the staff at Lakeside Cafe new hope.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Lakeside Cafe owner Ron Estlick's trip to the mailbox on Tuesday, Jan. 5, started like any other. But when he looked at the pile of letters, a priority envelope from the US Postal Service caught his eye.

"I was like, 'This is strange,' and then when I opened it up there was a card and I could tell there was money in it," he said.

The card contained $302 and a message for the servers at the restaurant:

To Lakeside Wait Staff. 

I live in Wisconsin and have been in the bar and restaurant industry most of my life. Watching you all go through this shutdown process has been almost painful. I'm sure more so for you obviously. I work full-time at a university now but once in a while I help out serving at a restaurant for a friend. I don’t really have extra money but the money I make is not budgeted so I decided to pick one bar or restaurant to send each shift tips to in my dad’s hometown of Muskegon. I spent a lot of time there and I love Muskegon. I know it’s not much, but I was hoping you could divide it amongst your wait staff for me. Please let them know people are thinking of them. We do care. And we see what you’re going through. Hang in there.

"You get a little teary eyed. It’s finally something good," said Estlick after reading the letter.

After learning about the card, Estlick's staff members were also grateful for the gesture.

"It warms my heart that people do care about the small businesses and they want to see us succeed. They know how hard it is for us as servers and the cooks that work in a small businesses that keep getting shut down," said Michelle Policka, who works at Lakeside Cafe and described the last several months as "Hell."

Fellow server Arika Smith says many of the regulars at Lakeside Cafe have been supportive of the staff there, but kindness during the COVID-19 pandemic has not been universal.

"It’s been trying for sure, with all the mask rules. People can be really kind or really not kind. So it’s been hard," she said.

The pandemic has also been rough on Estlick. He said the second shutdown has been worse than the first and that it prevented him from giving his employees the holiday season that he wanted for them.

"I wasn’t able to give turkeys for Thanksgiving. I wasn’t able to do the Christmas bonuses or Christmas party or any of that stuff that they deserve," he said.

The staff members say this latest gesture gives them hope, even though they're not sure who sent the card and the money.

"Somebody not even looking for a pat on the back or anything because it came with an address, but no name," Estlick said.

The only thing they know about the sender is that they're from Oneida, Wisconsin just outside of Green Bay.

"Thank you for your kindness, your compassion, your caring, and showing us that everybody in this world isn’t so evil right now with everything going on and the chaos and just the compassion to reach out and to show us kindness," Smith said.

"That means the world to us."

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