Picking up the tab for local guardswomen lands Sarah Hoidahl internet fame

An appearance on the “Ellen” show is the ticket to Fame for some, but Sarah Hoidahl, pictured here at her day job, says it won’t go to her head

A year after her spontaneous act of kindness set social media ablaze with tens of thousands of messages from around the world and spun her life into a new and completely unexpected orbit — Ellen DeGeneres gave her $10,000 and an SUV for starters — waitress Sarah Hoidahl remains wonderfully grounded. She still works five days a week at Ruby Tuesday in Concord. She and her 2-year-old son Ashton still live with her mother in a rented cottage in Henniker and she is still searching for Mr. Right. In a way, Hoidahl, 23, has treated the whole fantastic voyage as a kind of cautionary tale in reverse.

Have you been able to reflect on what this all means beyond the material gains — the money, the car, the adulation? What I did — people do that every day. It was just crazy how the universe would align and I’d get all these blessings for it. I had a lot of people come to me and say that I restored their faith in humanity. It kind of restored my faith in humanity too. Not because of what I did, but because of what other people did for me.

You picked up a $27.75 lunch tab for two New Hampshire guardswomen who were being furloughed. They were in uniform. Why did you do it? I overheard them talking about being laid off and what they could afford from the menu. I know what it means to struggle. When I was three months pregnant, my mom lost her job. We had to short sale our house.

You wrote them a note on the back of the bill that read in part, “Thanks to the gov shutdown the people like you that protect this country are not getting paid. However I still am!  Lunch is on me! Thank you for serving, ladies!” They were so happy one of them was crying. It was enough to make me happy.

But thanks to your manager (and his mother-in-law’s military connection), the New Hampshire National Guard published a copy of the note along with a photo of you on its Facebook site. In the midst of the federal government shutdown, the post went viral overnight. By the time Ellen DeGeneres flew you out to Burbank, more than 100,000 people had read it. There was a period when I was wondering when things would start looking up again. I had been in kind of a down time. Ellen definitely reinforced my belief in karma. In the beginning it was very overwhelming. I was getting hundreds of messages on Facebook. Things have kind of calmed down, but I still have tables that recognize me — “Are you the movie star? Are you the girl from “Ellen”?

Are you still getting messages? Every day, I feel like no one will recognize me — this will be the point that it will end, but there’ll be a rerun of the show and I will get three or four new messages.

Have the soldiers come back? I haven’t seen them since. One tried to call me here, but they didn’t leave a name or number. I would have tracked them down and said, “Oh my God, look what happened to my life!” I’m pretty sure they don’t want to be known.

Have you picked up anyone else’s tab since? (Laughing) No, I have not. I had never done it before. I don’t do that for just anybody.

Categories: Q&A