Paying it forward: Free ice cream campaign brings smiles, lessons

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He goes by name the "James the Ice Cream Cycle Dude," and he says that one of the hardest parts of his job "is seeing the disappointment on a kids face when all of their friends buy ice cream but they're left out because they don't have a dollar."

James Karagiannis and his team pedal through inner city areas in Buffalo, New york on a three wheeler selling Ice Creamcycles' frozen treats for a $1 a piece.

After almost 10 years in the business, Karagiannis says it's still rough when faced with a pint-sized customer who doesn't have the dollar to buy ice cream.

He says he remembers being one of those kids. With older brothers, "I remember being the one left out," Karagiannis tells KTVU Fox 2.

So he and his vendors kept a small supply of "freebies" on hand to help out those kids who don't have the money for a frozen treat. 

But as the saying goes, "nothing in life is free," so Karagiannis had the child "pay him" by answering a math or history question.

"I don't like the idea of just giving something away to a kid without at least trying to teach a lesson," writes Karagiannis in a Facebook post.

Word of his generosity got around, and he said it was taking a toll on the business's finances. There was only so many free ice creams he could give away.

On the flip side, as the word spread, other customers came forward, wanting to help Karagiannis's efforts.

People began to pitch in with donations to supply free ice cream to kids who couldn't afford one.

"However they never get to see the joy on kids faces when I hand them out," writes Karagiannis.

So he came up with an idea.

If kids get a free ice cream, in return, they have to write a thank you note. 

And the note is then mailed to people who donated.

"Maybe it arrives in your mailbox long after you've forgotten about it, maybe it arrives on a day you could use an extra smile," says Karagiannis.

Whether it is challenging his young customers with a history or math question or teaching them about writing thank you notes, the ice cream seller says that as members of the community, he feels he and his team have a very important role to play.

"We're in these neighborhoods everyday and are a part of these kids lives, therefore we have the responsibility to be positive role models."

As Karagiannis' story has spread, donations have been pouring in from near and far.

He tells us that he's received some $10,000, with donations coming from as far as New Zealand. 

Karagiannis says he launched the thank you note campaign thinking maybe he'd receive $500 in donations and says he's been absolutely blown away by the response. 

"Between the postcard printing costs, postage, labor, etc this is not something I'm doing to make money. Rather I just think it's something that just makes all of us feel good," says Karagiannis.

He says that he loves his job and enjoys being able to bring joy to people through his ice cream.

And he says that his aim is to bring happiness to "every single person" he comes across in his work.  

Karagiannis offers his own note of thanks to those who have been a part of his pay it forward campaign: "Thanks for helping us see to it that no kid goes without ice cream."