SWFL woman’s Wawa holiday story goes viral, reaches 80 million views

A Southwest Florida woman took social media by storm with her uncontrollable laugh after a holiday mix-up at a local Wawa.

Mary Katherine Backstrom, a Fort Myers blogger, gained national attention after reaching millions of people.

We sat down with Backstrom and learned she is known for more than her viral moment. In the spirit of the holidays, Backstrom says she wanted to pay it forward.

“All right. So I’m in the line at the Wawa, and this lady in line is buying ginger ale,” Backstrom said in her Facebook Live video. “I was like, ‘I got you. I’m buying your ginger ale. And she was like, ‘Why?’ And I was like, ‘I’m just feeling the holiday magic, you know?’”

“So, then, I walk out of the gas station feeling like Buddy, the elf, in a Hallmark movie, and I’m like, ‘Ta da da,’” Backstrom told WINK News.

“I see this man, and he is cleaning my windshield,” Backstrom says in the video. “’Thank you for doing this,’ and I give him a hug … It wasn’t my car.”

Backstrom has a platform with thousands of followers, and she uses it to spread kindness to all of them. And, during her live retelling of her holiday happening, her infectious laugh captured everyone’s attention.

“This snowballed very rapidly, and I didn’t know what to do,” Backstrom said.

Her video explaining how she hugged a total stranger at the Wawa because she was full of the Christmas spirit got more than 80 million views, and it landed Backstrom an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’ daytime talk show.

“She’s like a human ice cream cone,” Backstrom said. “She’s like sweet and good and wonderful and everything you would hope it would be, and I left feeling like a tornado. It was just a surreal experience.”

Backstrom, a mother of two, has a history of generosity. She once fixed a waitress’ car and paid off a stranger’s bills. She donated a kidney to her uncle.

Ellen recognized Backstrom for her kindness in a big way with a $20,000 check. Backstrom says she and her family are going to use that money to keep helping others and keep the spirit of the holidays going.

“We’re not going to keep it because we just really feel like our family, our cup is overflowing,” Backstrom said. “We just feel like this is something that should be paid forward”

And Backstrom hopes her story will motivate others.

“Be kind to one another,” Backstrom said. “Look how many cool things have happened just from one small act of kindness.”

Reporter:Dannielle Garcia
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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