SPANISH FORK Employees of the Winger's diner in Spanish Fork recently pooled their Friday-night tips to help a co-worker who was recently diagnosed with leukemia.
Shawn Shepherd, 18, had worked in the Winger's at 592 Kirby Lane in Spanish Fork for a little over a year when he started to feel ill, said Winger's franchise owner George Hyde. He said Shepherd went in for testing a few months ago, and doctors diagnosed him with the disease.
Shepherd was immediately admitted to the Primary Children's Medical Center and started chemotherapy. The expensive treatment was a huge drain on Shepherd, who comes from a single-parent home, Hyde said. Some of his medications cost more than $500 per week.
"Financially, it's been very difficult for him and his family," Hyde said.
The chemotherapy has taken a heavy toll on Shepherd. Already a "skinny 18-year-old kid," he lost an additional 15 pounds, Hyde said. He said the workplace jokester's energy was zapped, and his hair began to fall out, including a beard he was trying to grow.
"That treatment kills you before it makes you better," Hyde said.
Brittany Parmenter and Chantel Fish two of Shepherd's friends and co-workers decided to lend a hand to the family. Parmenter said they rounded up their fellow employees and pitched the idea of donating all their tip money from a night at work. So many people signed up for the "Tips for Shawn" fund-raiser, they decided to do it on a Friday one of the restaurant's busiest nights.
Hyde was so impressed by his employees' willingness to give up their hard-earned money, he offered them extra incentive.
"Whatever you raise, I'll match it," he told them.
That Oct. 12 evening was a typical night as far as the number of customers, Parmenter said, but the tips kept pouring in. One young couple left a $100 tip after they learned about Shepherd's plight. One young boy gave Parmenter $15.
"His mom said he was saving up his money to donate that night," she said.
At closing time, the employees counted the amount of money in the register and learned they raised $4,265, Hyde said.
"They were excited to tell me what I owed them," he laughed.
A few days later, when Shepherd came home to rest between chemotherapy sessions, Hyde, Parmenter and Fish visited his family and presented them with an oversize novelty check for $8,530. His mother, Viki Jacobsen, was so grateful she started weeping, Hyde said.
"It was really touching to hand it over," he said.
Since the first round of chemotherapy, Shepherd has shown remarkable progress, Parmenter said.
"He's already in remission," she said. "He probably won't need a donor."
Despite the rapid recovery, Shepherd will probably have to spend another six months in the hospital, Parmenter said.
Shepherd is a "class clown" and the restaurant's "prime source of entertainment," Parmenter said. Among his antics, Shepherd was notorious for hiding in the locker and jumping out when employees opened it. She said she misses having him around.
"I'm always checking around corners to see if someone is going to jump out at me," she said. "But he doesn't work there any more."Hyde said anyone who'd like to make a donation can contribute to the Shawn Shepherd Benefit Fund at any Wells Fargo Bank.