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Walgreens cashier who used her last $20 to pay for customer’s items inspires neighborhood to pay it forward

Cashier Rita Burns paid for a customer who forgot their wallet. That customer shared the story on Nextdoor where neighbors are raving about Rita.

HOUSTON — We are Standing For Houston by celebrating the Heroes Nextdoor. 

For about the last six months we’ve shared direct connections: neighbors directly showing kindness to another neighbor. Then we met Ms. Rita. 

Rita Jackson Burns is a cashier at the Walgreen’s located at 8413 Stella Link in Houston. She spreads kindness just by being herself. 

Turns out she has a heart full of gold. She teaches us when we’re genuinely kind, our impact is infinite.

Rina Liou met Ms. Rita on Monday, September 7. 

Liou walked into the store just after 2 p.m. The Houston realtor was racing against the clock. She was showing a home at 2:30 p.m. and really needed to replace some light bulbs.

“I’m just going to make a dash to Walgreens. And I never go there,” said Liou. “I go there and I get my light bulbs. And when I went to pay, my heart just sank.”

Liou forgot her wallet and she grabbed her husband’s phone by mistake. “I’m like, shaking. Trying to figure out Apple Pay. Couldn’t figure it out.”

“I said, I will go ahead and pay for it, for you,” said Ms. Rita. “I just was a little short on funds.” 

The 58-year old said she had just paid bills. She only had $20 in her bank account.

“She really needed it so I just looked up at God and said, I guess I’m going to do it,” said Burns who prayed her finances would all work out as she swiped her debit card to cover $12.41.

“She saved me,” said Liou. “I couldn’t believe that a stranger would do that for another stranger. Like, she didn’t know me. I didn’t have to come back.”

Credit: Rina Liou

Liou made it to her listing then grabbed her wallet and returned to the Walgreens. She paid Burns back and as a thank you -- gave her a little extra. Then Liou shared her experience on Nextdoor.

“And I couldn’t believe all the comments."

“Rita is the happiest, best employee that Walgreen’s has to offer in normal circumstances,” wrote Meg.

“Rita is the best!! She is such a lovely person and always remembers me by name and always asks how my mom is doing,” shared Renee.

“I agree with everyone. Wonderful comments about Rita,” wrote Leslie. “She is amazing and puts a smile on my face each time I go into Walgreen’s. She has watched our kids grow up over the past 20+ yeas. She asks about them every time.

Kristy from Woodside: Ms. Rita is the BEST! Love that lady!”

The thread of comments inspired neighbors to create a GoFundMe page: Gratitude for Ms. Rita

It started with an initial goal of $5,000. Neighbors reached that within 24 hours. So they raised the goal to $8,000. 

As of the publication of this story, the crowdfunding site had collected $6,045 for Ms. Rita.

Ms. Rita at Walgreens is a neighbor in the truest sense of the word. When a customer needed to buy lightbulbs in a rush but had forgotten her wallet, Ms. Rita wanted to pay "but only had $20 in [her] account." When she realized the bulbs were 50% off, she paid without hesitation using her own debit card.

“Melissa! They’re my people,” said Ms. Rita to KHOU11 News Reporter Melissa Correa during a Zoom interview. “You come in and say, hey Rita! I’ll be like, hey Melissa! You’ll be like, Hey Rita!”

The grandmother seizes every opportunity to live in the moment. She’s a person who can make a genuine connection in the seconds it takes to ring up a customer.

One neighbor wrote that she leaves Walgreens inspired to be a better version of herself, “because of me,” asked Burns.

Yep. Because of Rita Jackson Burns. The Houston native lives a modest life. She’s worked at the same Walgreens for 38 years. She’ll tell you, while she greets everyone with pure joy, not all customers enter with a good mood.

“And I try to ease their tension too. You know, how you doing today,” said Burns. “I just try to find something to talk to them about. To get them off their mind, maybe, just for a minute.”

“I try to treat people the way I want to be treated,” said Burns.

Because when we lead with humanity, the world becomes a better place.

“Humanity is greater than your job occupation, your status,” said Liou.

And to her neighbors, Burns says, “I thank them all. Can you go on there and tell them, she says thank you?”

Rina Liou reached out to KHOU 11 News Reporter Melissa Correa because KHOU is teaming with Nextdoor to share positive, uplifting stories about neighbors helping neighbors. To connect with Melissa on Nextdoor, click here.