In the spirit of Thanksgiving, a kindness gets returned in Greenport

On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Berrit Lalli learned the meaning of the expression “pay it forward.”

That morning, Ms. Lalli, decided to drive from her home in Orient to the IGA in Southold because she knew that store would have rutabagas. While she normally shopped at the IGA in Greenport, she wasn’t sure they would have them.

Having grown up in Sweden, where rutabagas are a well-regarded root vegetable, Ms. Lalli likes them mashed and served at holiday meals.

“I did my shopping and I was in the checkout line,” said Ms. Lalli, who turned 95 last summer and is comfortable driving from her home to Southold in search of a favorite food item. 

“Standing in line I realized I left my credit card in my car,” she said. “I went out to get it and when I came back the cashier said my items were paid for. I said, ‘What happened?’ She told me the woman behind me in line had paid the bill.

“She was still in the store and I went up to her and said, ‘Oh, please, let me write you a check.’ The bill was $86. She was very nice. She said no, she wanted to do it and she told me to please enjoy my Thanksgiving. She insisted on paying it.

“I said would you please give me your name? She said, no, it was fine. She was glad to do it. I told her ‘then I will give the money to charity.’ You know, I wanted to pay it forward.”

Monday afternoon, Ms. Lalli took a familiar drive to the IGA in Greenport in search of someone she would see in the store almost every time she went. She knew Ruth Ruffner by sight as a longtime employee who worked behind the counter at the front of the store, and she knew that a fire earlier this month had all but destroyed Ms. Ruffner’s home in the village.

Near one of the cash registers friends of Ms. Ruffner had put a box with her name on it asking for any donations of clothes or other items to be placed there on her behalf.

Ms. Lalli’s idea was to pay it forward, to return the kindness shown to her by an anonymous woman at the IGA in Southold. She walked up the counter and handed Ms. Ruffner a card containing a check for $100.

“I wanted to help you all I can,” she said.

Ms. Ruffner said she was very happy to receive the check and praised Greenport for coming together to help her and her family.

“The community has been incredible,” she said. “Everyone has come out to help us. It could not be better.”