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Hundreds 'pay it forward' at Starbucks store, buying coffee for next person in line

Hundreds of customers at one Connecticut Starbucks took this Christmas as an opportunity to pay it forward, giving many fellow Pike Place roast and pastry patrons a big surprise when the time came to pay the bill.

Since early Christmas Eve, customers have been showing up at the Starbucks on the Berlin Turnpike in in Newington, Conn., to find the person ahead of them has already bought their coffees.

See original report at NBCConnecticut.com

More than 300 customers had "paid it forward" when the store closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday. The number had jumped to 420 by Wednesday evening, and it was still going strong on Thursday.  By 5 p.m., more than 720 customers had paid for the customer behind them in the drive-thru line.

“It was a nice surprise we were just going to get some drinks and go home,” said customer Kaitlyn Willametz.

It was a generous gesture she didn’t expect from a complete stranger. Willametz returned the favor by picking up the tab for the next person in line.

"It means a lot people are still looking out for other people and being caring and bringing out the holiday spirit,” she explained.

Willametz was in good company. The "pay it forward" trend started at 8 a.m. on Christmas Eve, when someone unexpectedly paid for the next person in line and continued for 12 hours, until the store closed for the night.

“It feels so good," said customer Cathy Shemeth. "It’s awesome. That's what Christmas is all about."

The store’s list showed 303 people paid it forward before the store closed that day. Neither workers nor customers said they'd ever seen anything like it.

“It’s pretty great. You think you’re going coffee and you end up doing a little bit more makes you feel good,” said Jennie Gillespy.

It's something workers said they hope will continue when Christmas comes around next year.

Workers at the Newington Starbucks said $45 was left over when the store closed at 5 p.m. Christmas Day, so Thursday, the first few drinks were free, and customers decided to keep the good will going throughout the day.