Inside the Texas Grocery Store That Gave Away Carts Full of Food When the Electric Went Out 

A chorus of groans could be heard throughout the store when the power stopped, says one patron who was moved by the grocer's gesture

HEB texas
Photo: Courtesy Debbie Hennessy

When there was a break in the deep freeze that swept across Texas last week, Tim Hennessy and his wife Deb piled into his Jeep and headed for the grocery store for a few last-minute supplies.

There was a line to get into the store, so Tim did what most Texans do: he made friends with the strangers around him.

"I love people," says Tim, who lives in Leander, Texas, about 30 minutes north of Austin. "I was teasing the people in front of me. I said, 'You know, they only have liver and lima beans left.' We all started to laugh."

It was a much-needed laugh for many who endured power outages amid the icy storm — which, in many cases, cut off their access to heat — and for others forced to deal with water shortages, leaving them without ways to drink or shower.

Taking advantage of the weather break, dozens lined up at H.E.B., a beloved grocery store chain for many Texans. The New York Times recently wrote about its cult following, which includes patrons wearing T-shirts and others posting to TikTok as proud members of its fandom.

Once inside, the Hennessys began filling their cart with their family's requests — milk, tortillas, fruits and vegetables — when it happened again.

"We're there about 10, 15 minutes, then boom! The power goes out," he recalls. "You could hear a groan throughout the whole store."

For more on the crisis in Texas, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

They waited to see if the power would return, but as the minutes ticked by, the couple decided to make their way to the checkout line where everyone in the store started lining up. There were about a dozen people in front of him, he says.

As they settled in for the long wait, he realized the line began to move. Swiftly. As they approached the cashier, she waved her hands and told them, "Go home, and be safe driving home."

It took Tim a minute, he says, to realize everything in their cart was free.

"I think everybody thought it was just a great gesture," he says. "And I think just because of that, it makes you want to help other people in that moment too."

The couple immediately teared up at the gesture. Tim shared his story on his Facebook page and it immediately went viral.

H.E.B. did not return a call for comment.

Tim says he realized how fortunate he was despite the disaster.

"What's amazing about stuff like that, this country's gone through some tough times this last year or two," he says. "And compared to the rest of the world, we're really fortunate here."

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