When the pandemic forced bars and restaurants in New York City to close, Mary O’Halloran didn’t know how she and her family would make it.
Her Irish pub, Mary O’s, is a local favorite, but that didn’t help once weeks of being closed turned into months. With six kids in tow and a husband stranded in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska until travel opened up again, she began formulating a plan.
First, she focused on how she was going to homeschool six children all by herself.
“I pulled all the furniture out of the bar, and made a section for each of them: pillow, blankets, everything they needed,” she told Humans of New York.
But rent and other expenses still needed to be paid. While she couldn’t open up her bar, Mary had to try something to make ends meet.
“I began catering dinners for emergency workers at a nearby hotel,” she said. “It wasn’t much money, but it was something to do. Each night I’d cook dinner for 30 people. The kids would help when they could: peeling potatoes, washing dishes.”
Through it all, Mary managed to maintain a tough exterior. Not because what she was doing was easy, but because she had people counting on her that she didn’t want to let down.
“But I’d be so exhausted every day,” she said. “Everyone had so much faith in me to survive. Maybe because I keep the tough side out — everyone assumed I was OK. Nobody knew I was full of worries.”
Mary worked tirelessly, not only for her family, but also for total strangers. In addition to working to survive, she somehow made time for sewing masks, making meals for first responders, and more.
Fortunately, her generous heart didn’t go unnoticed! Regulars at her pub offered to do whatever they could. Some even helped her set up an online store so she could sell soda bread scones with homemade blackberry jam, made with her mom’s recipe from Ireland.
Those delicious scones would go on to change Mary’s life. They were already popular, but they started to gain even more attention after a reporter did a story on her bar and ate one of them live.
“It wasn’t a ton of money,” she said. “I was only making $1,800 for 100 boxes of scones. It wasn’t paying rent or anything. But it was something to do, you know? I finally found something that was working.”
She even caught the attention of Brandon Stanton, the person behind Humans of New York, a social media platform dedicated to telling humanity’s heartfelt stories. Once Brandon posted her story online, comments flooded in from people who adore Mary. They told even more stories that demonstrated how kindness has always been a huge part of the mom’s life.
Touched by Mary’s situation, Brandon set up a webpage where people could pay $30 for her scones rather than the normal $18. He also set up a GoFundMe for those who want to donate to her directly. The selfless pub owner was a bit hesitant at first.
“Mary started crying when I suggested raising prices, because she says other people are hurting more than her,” Brandon said.
With an option for clients to still pay the normal price, Mary allowed it. She would quickly learn that so many people were thrilled to help her out. Within a day, over $1 million came flooding in through online orders. That’s 150,000 scones!
When Brandon gave her the news at the end of the night, she began to cry tears of joy. Then she asked him, “I can do this, right?” His answer, of course, was a resounding, “Yes!”
“Because every one of those orders came from people who want the best for her,” he wrote. “And I felt confident that we’d all be patient while she figured out a new process for making scones. Mary has a great team around her. She refers to them as ‘The Regulars’ as if they’re a squad of superheroes, but they’re actually longtime customers who transform into volunteers at a moment’s notice.”
Mary may still feel as though she doesn’t deserve this, but every single person whose life she has touched with her kindness knows better.
“This woman deserves every bit of this,” Brandon said. “She gives and gives and never asks for a thing.”
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