Carmen Kelly walked into Walmart for what she expected to be a shift like any other. Minutes later, a customer named Elizabeth Rizzo entered the store and did the unthinkable. Here's their unbelievable story...
It's hard to remember life before TikTok. The video-sharing social media platform stormed into the world in August 2018. And within a few years, it had become a global and cultural phenomenon.
Every day, millions of people upload videos of themselves to the app. Whether it's dancing, singing, cooking, or cleaning, there's something on there for everyone to enjoy. What helped the platform to stand out from the rest was its unique algorithm which hooked people in with tailored content suggestions.
A Love-Hate Relationship
The video-sharing social media app has received much backlash over the years for creating unhealthy beauty standards and spreading negative messages. Some countries, such as India and Afghanistan, have banned the app entirely, while there have even been talks of forbidding it in the United States.
However, as with most things, there are good and bad components. There is seemingly a beautiful side to the platform, where a kindhearted community exists, changing many lives for the better. This is the story of one 82-year-old woman who has the app to thank for her incredible life-changing experience…
Meet Carmen Kelly
Carmen Kelly was an 82-year-old woman who worked at an Arizona Walmart. She was employed as a store greeter, standing by the front entrance and welcoming guests as they walked in. Seeing as she was not allowed to sit down on the job, she placed her cane inside a shopping cart and leaned on it for support.
Despite the difficult situation, she kept a smile on her face throughout and was kind to every person she interacted with. Of course, she could not have known that this very friendliness and kindness would draw a kind stranger in who would have a remarkable impact on her life.
Entering the Arizona Walmart for a quick shopping trip, TikTok creator Elizabeth Rizzo noticed the elderly woman working on her feet. She couldn't help but strike up a conversation with her as she wanted to understand why a woman her age would still be working.
Especially with the cane, it was clear she was not physically strong enough to withstand a job like that. Something was telling her there was a story behind this situation, and she needed to know. There was no way she could have foreseen that this innocent question would transform lives.
An Innocent Question
"Do you need to work?" Rizzo asked the elderly woman. She was secretly hoping that maybe this Walmart Employee was not working out of obligation to pay off debt but merely because she wanted a way to fill her days and enjoyed interacting with all the people at the store.
Unfortunately, the woman's reply shattered her dreams. "Yes," the woman replied with a smile. Then, before the TikTok creator could even ask, Kelly began to tell her heartbreaking story that had led her up to this very day in this specific Walmart branch.
The Truth Comes Out
Kelly's eyes filled with tears at the kindhearted nature of this stranger. This was the first time in a while someone had taken an interest in her story or even acknowledged her presence. She wasn't used to opening up to people like this, but she had a gut feeling she could tell this stranger her story.
At this point, Kelly couldn't imagine what good could really come out of sharing her life tale with this friendly customer. But regardless, she knew she would feel relief simply by getting it off her chest. So, after a big, deep breath, she began from the very beginning...
Her Unexpected Story
"My life has been up and down up and down," Carmen told Liz. She explained that she moved to Arizona in 2004 with the dream of retiring and relaxing after working most of her life. However, upon arrival, things took a turn for the worse, and the universe had other plans.
On multiple occasions, she found herself in the emergency room, which had drained her bank account dry and left her with just $50 to her name. With no family members able to help, her only way of paying off the medical debt was to come out of retirement and head back into the workforce.
Upon hearing this tear-jerking story, Liz felt compelled to help her. Although she herself didn't have that many followers, she understood the widespread influence that a viral TikTok video could have and wanted to give it a shot. "When I saw her, and I walked in the door, my heart was just like cracked open," Rizzo told ABC.
She remembered hearing about other TikTok users who had managed to gather their fans and enlist their help to financially support strangers in need. She would document Kelly's story and plead with her followers to help her back into retirement. What was all this influence good for if she didn't use it to help those in need?
"Look at This Woman"
Liz did what she does best and whipped out her phone, pointing the camera at the elderly Walmart worker. "Look at this woman," she could be heard saying in the background of the video. "Having to work here at Walmart with her cane." She then began to talk directly to the woman.
After asking her name, she told her, "I'm gonna put you on TikTok. The last lady on TikTok with Walmart, she raised $110,000," she told her while the camera was still rolling. Kelly seemed visibly impressed and excited. Would she be as lucky as this other Walmart worker? She certainly hoped so.
A Public Plea
In an attempt to emphasize Carmen's unfair working situation, Rizzo continued asking the important questions on camera. "Don't they give you a chair?" She asked Carmen. "No!" She replied with a laugh. "Well, I'm gonna make sure this goes viral and get you some help; I'm gonna try my best!" Rizzo promised her in return.
On the screen, she included a message to her followers. "Walmart 82yr old with a cane working for medical bills not allowed to sit, please help," she wrote. She, of course, included a GoFundMe link that her followers could easily click on to send money Kelly's way.
With the fundraiser titled "Carmen from Walmart Medical Bills," Rizzo promised the donators that she would "give [Carmen] all of the funds raised." "I have her contact information and will follow up with her and post videos," she added on the collection page.
However, despite the lengthy explanation, not many donations were coming in. Rizzo worried this had all been for nothing. They had set a goal of $10,00, but even that seemed too ambitious at this point. Finally, they got to $5,000, and it appeared that might be the end. It wasn't enough, but it was something.
Just two days after the campaign started, Rizzo shared a second video to update Kelly and her followers on the progress. "Walmart Carmen update," she titled the TikTok clip. "Do you know your TikTok video reached 1 million views?" she told a speechless Carmen.
"And we raised over half of your $10,000 medical bills. The TikTokers love you. You're their new grandma! You're my new grandma," Rizzo joked. "Thank you very much!" Kelly exclaimed at the news. "Will you be able to retire after this?" Rizzo asked. "I hope so!" Kelly responded.
For one reason or another, this video update did the trick, turning Carmen's story into a viral phenomenon with 14.9 million views. Everyone heard about this heartwarming story and wanted in. "With the second video, it just went crazy," Rizzo explained. "I was not planning this; I just felt moved to do this."
When Carmen's family caught word of the story, they sent photos of her to Rizzo in an attempt to spur the campaign on further. The TikToker then shared the footage with her followers in a slideshow clip. To the women's delight, the donations continued flying in.
An Army of Supporters
Along with the donations, people were sending their best wishes, praising the elderly woman and the TikTok creator. "This is clearly a lady in need of help. We all should do our part. One day we may find ourselves in similar circumstances. Give what you can," one comment said with an attachment of $200.
"We hope you can live happily ever after comfortable in your own home without any worry!! Bless you," a stranger commented. "God bless you, Liz, for being proactive in getting Carmen some much-needed financial assistance!….@ Carmen, please know that you are in the thoughts and prayers of strangers all over our great country."
The Results Are In
The donations came in small amounts, with most people donating $10 at a time. But, as any campaign manager will know, it all slowly added up. Every second, Liz's phone was beeping to alert her another donation had been sent through to the GoFundMe page.
Soon, the total figures were representing life-changing sums of money, which would guarantee Carmen the financial freedom and flexibility she desperately needed at this stage of her life. At the time of writing, the total stood at over $135,000 from 9,200 donors! It was truly a sight to be seen.
A Sign From Above
After endless anticipation, Rizzo finally revealed to Kelly how much the campaign had collected. "Tonight we tell Carmen miracles are real," Rizzo captioned the clip. As Carmen sat on the sofa in her home, she delightfully heard the good news. "There aren't enough words to tell you how I feel," Kelly told Rizzo.
"It isn't just about me, it's what the meaning of all this is, and I really feel that. It's about joy." She could be heard telling the kind stranger that her efforts had changed her life, and she would be forever grateful for that. "I feel like God sent you," she told Rizzo with tears in her eyes.
"The Golden Years"
12 News caught word of this story and reached out to the elderly woman to hear her side of the story. Before she was interviewed, the network explained that she had been working at the Walmart branch for almost two years. When asked about her position as a greeter, she told them she "absolutely loved it."
But still, she just wasn't earning enough to get her out of the medical debt she had accumulated. When presented with further updates on the fundraiser, she couldn't believe her ears, "Oh my lord, I can't believe this. I'm like a millionaire." She said adorably. "These will be the golden years for me."
As Carmen's story continued to spread, her employers began to face backlash for the fact she was forced to stand on the job. "We honor reasonable accommodations and have a long history of working with associates with disabilities," they defended themselves in a statement.
In an attempt to get ahead of any other further negative press, they also made a point of the fact that they pay their workers an average salary of $19 an hour, seemingly suggesting this is a sufficient living wage and that their workers are not exploited in any way or form.
Paying It Forward
"I was surprised at the amount we were able to fundraise," Rizzo gushed to 12 News during the joint sit-down interview. "I was really shocked, but I believe in the goodness of people, and I believe if you touch their heart, in some way, they'll come together."
"I never dreamed this would happen. I think this is something not just for Carmen but for all of us, too, to carry on in the world to do good... The seniors in our world need to be taken care of because they took care of us," she told the 12 News viewers.
An Important Update
Using her TikTok account, Rizzo continued to follow Kelly's life, showing her followers what she'd been up to. As noted by Rizzo, Kelly actually decided to continue working at the supermarket because she enjoyed the human interaction and distraction at the store.
But, because of the fundraising efforts, she had been able to cut down her hours to just a few a day. Rizzo also mentioned Kelly's plans to buy a house with the earnings. Moving forward, Rizzo's top priority is to ensure the entirety of the campaign fund goes successfully into the trust she set up for Kelly.
Gaining a Grandmother
Rizzo and Kelly developed a grandmother-and-granddaughter relationship during the course of the campaign. They live just twenty minutes from each other and spend many hours socializing in their homes. This experience has bonded the two women for life.
Seeing that Rizzo lost her own grandmother when she was young, it seemed almost meant to be. "My grandmother died when I was 15, and she was my rock," she told 12 News. "I always wished I had my grandmother growing up. You know, Carmen is my new grandmother. I didn't know it would take until I was 68 years old to get my grandma back."
Moreover, Rizzo's life seemed to have come full circle as her grandmother had been passionate about giving to others. Liz recalled to 12 News that in the few years that they had been in each other's lives, she was always being taught to look out for those less fortunate and help them however she could.
She explained that her grandmother would tell her to move rocks out of the sidewalk in case an elderly person would walk there and fall over them. From a young age, it was drilled into her head that everyone should be treated with kindness and respect - no matter who they are.
Continuing Her Legacy
Through this extreme act of kindness, Rizzo was able to carry out the ultimate display of giving back to the community, using her social media platform to help others. Her grandmother would have undoubtedly been looking down on her granddaughter proudly.
"We have to do small and random acts of kindness for each other," Rizzo told 12 News. "It's not about money. It's about the spirit of giving and caring for each other." Liz's ultimate dream is for people to see her campaign and continue to pass on the good gestures to others.
Not only did Kelly benefit greatly from Rizzo's kindness and help, having her life changed entirely, but Rizzo herself received some benefits. Of course, she had had no self-interest intentions when doing what she did, but somehow the good karma had come back around in a way she had not foreseen.
People loved not just the story of Kelly, but everything Rizzo stood for as an influencer. For this reason, they followed her, wanting to see what she would do next. Before the video upload, she had just 125 followers, and within the week, she had increased this to 127,000.
An Emerging Trend
Just as Liz had hoped, many elderly Walmart employees have been seeing the same result because of her campaign. This signals the existence of a passionate internet community that loves to help others and wants to ensure no elderly person is working unnecessarily.
Under the caption #TikTokWalmartRetiree, people are sharing the heartbreaking stories of their local elderly Walmart workers and begging their followers to ease their financial situations. Every few days, it seems, a new Walmart employee is going viral. One such man was Butch Marion.
Butch was an 82-year-old employee at a Walmart in Cumberland, Maryland. He worked most days behind the serving counter, always with a smile on his face. By many of his co-workers, he would be considered the hardest working member of the team and never let his age get in his way.
For almost eight hours a day, he stood behind the check-out desk, never complaining about a thing. A strong work ethic was all he knew after working various jobs from the tender age of eleven. According to Fox 5, he is described by his friends as someone "whose heart is as big as his smile."
A Fateful Interaction
On December 17, Rory McCarty entered the Walmart branch to buy a few groceries he needed. When he got to the check-out counter, he was shocked to see the 82-year-old man scanning his items. He looked weak and bent over, and Rory was concerned for the man's well-being.
After a brief discussion with the man about why he was working so hard at his late age, he had an idea inspired by Rizzo's TikTok. "As a business owner and knowing how hard it's been to try to find good help for my business, I was astounded seeing this little older man still grinding," McCarty wrote.
He immediately opened up his camera and began filming Butch hard at work. In the clip, he could be heard informing Butch about the other Walmart employees in his position who had received funds from the TikTok public and requested his permission to give it a go on his behalf.
"This woman goes into Wal-Marts and meets these elderly people who are still working. For one woman, she raised $100,000 dollars. Imagine that someone raised that kind of money for you," McCarty told him. "Whoooo!" Butch exclaimed. Immediately, McCarty got to work.
"Who Would Donate?"
Uploading the clip of Butch hard at work, McCarty captioned the video, "We ought to do that for Butch." "Who would donate?" Like Rizzo, he attached a link to a GoFundMe campaign titled Butch. "Let's give Butch the most amazing retirement gift ever seen," he encouraged his followers.
"I wanted to help this Navy Veteran to live the remainder of his years traveling to see his kids in Florida. Get him off his feet for 8 hrs at a time. And do the things he would love to do that he may not be able to for financial reasons. Every penny will go to Butch," the fund description read.
An Incredible Ending
In just two days, over 4400 donations came flooding in. And in total, over $100,000 was raised for Butch. Talking to Insider magazine, McCarty explained that he had told Butch about the fund's progress just one day after it had begun - and he had been incredibly excited.
"I just wanted to put something in motion, and the Lord did the rest," Rory told Fox 5. Despite being able to leave the job because of the fundraising, Butch still felt it was important to give them two weeks' notice before he quit entirely. A commendable campaign for a commendable man.