A North Carolina waitress is receiving praise for stepping in to feed a customer’s fussy 18-month-old daughter so her tired mother could enjoy her meal at a local Olive Garden.
Courtney Pedigo, of Greensboro, says she was out at the restaurant with her young daughter, Harlynn, her stepmother and a few friends on Oct. 1 when Harlynn became tired and “wouldn’t sit still.”
“Harlynn, it was getting to be her bedtime and I could tell it wasn’t gonna be a good sit-down meal,” Courtney, 24, tells PEOPLE. “I tried occupying her with some movies on my phone, I tried holding her. She was just getting really fussy and whiny. I was just getting overwhelmed. I knew it was time to go out to the car.”
With that, Courtney found her waitress, Nianni Rudder, and asked for a to-go box, planning to eat with her daughter in the family’s car.
“[Nianni] said, ‘No, you’re gonna go over there and eat your dinner. I’ll be there in just a second to play with her,’ ” Courtney recalls of Rudder, noting that she returned to the family’s table with food and a bit of ice cream.
“She sat there and fed [Harlynn] some ice cream and was wiping her hands and her face. She talked to my family and opened up a bit about herself. It was pretty cool. I was just really flustered and overwhelmed and she was a breath of fresh air.”
Courtney says she was “shocked” by Rudder’s act.
“Everyone at the table was like, ‘Wow! She didn’t have to do this,” she recalls. “She chose to sit there with my family and occupy my baby so I could eat … I’m a single mom and it’s hard sometimes. She calmed me, a total stranger just calmed me down.”
After the incident, Courtney shared a photo of Rudder and Harlynn on Facebook, praising her for her kind gesture. In a little more than a week, the post had amassed more than 10,000 “likes.” But Rudder wrote in a Facebook post of her own that she never intended for her act to garner so much attention.
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“I did what I would want for someone to do for me if I was in that situation,” Rudder wrote. “People need to be more compassionate with one another. Anyone with a heart would have done the same.”
Now, Courtney says she and Rudder have spoken several times since that night.
“She said to me the other day, ‘We’re family now,’ ” Courtney recalls of Rudder. “We’re friends on Facebook so she’ll message or I’ll message her to see how things are going. Her and I, we’re gonna keep in touch, definitely.”