The Gold Star family that never stops ‘paying it forward’

By now, you’ve probably heard the story of Myles Eckert, the Toledo-area boy who found $20 outside a Cracker Barrel restaurant and then decided to give it to a soldier who was having dinner inside. He did it, he told CBS’ Steve Hartman, in memory of his father, who was killed in Iraq on Mother’s Day 2005.

There’s another kid in that family, and she’s got a pretty good story, too.

Myles’ sister, Marlee Freedom Eckert, is 10 now and her school was holding its Winter Ball, a chance for girls to dance with their fathers. Her grandfather drove through the night to take Marlee to the dance and dance with her. When they arrived at the school, they found this — a welcome from dozens of local police, firefighters, and military personnel, the Toledo Blade reported.

Photo: Toledo Blade. Used by permission.

“This is for all the girls, not just Marlee,” Dr. David Miramontes, Marlee’s grandfather, said. “They may not all have traditional families.”

Meanwhile, the story of Marlee’s brother continues to race around the Internet. And there’s a postscript to that, too.

People across the country have been sending the young man money in response to his own good deed.

Tiffany Eckert, Sgt. Andy Eckert’s widow, sent this out:

The Eckert family is so appreciative of the incredible response they have received since sharing Myles’ story. They have decided to use this opportunity to continue paying it forward and have asked that all donations and video game funds be directed to an organization close to their hearts. Snowball Express is a yearly retreat organized around the holidays for Gold Star families to unite and support each other.

“What Snowball does for Marlee, Myles, & their gold star friends is life changing. We are thrilled at the opportunity to give back to an organization that means so much to us. Seeing people give to Snowball would mean so much more to all of us than any video game ever could. Myles isn’t the only little guy out there that’s hugging a headstone. This will benefit some of the others. Thank you!!” Tiffany Eckert

Here’s the original story:

And there’s even more. Two or three weeks ago — after CBS filmed the interview with the Eckerts — they went out to eat at Sgt. Eckert’s favorite restaurant to celebrate his birthday There, they met Nicole Padilla, 26, who was their server.

“She told me they were celebrating the birthday, and I asked where he was,” she told the Toledo Blade. “When they said he passed away I sat down like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ … I felt such a connection. I got attached.”

The staff paid for the Eckerts’ celebration. Then they found the Eckerts had left something for Ms. Padilla, too: $20 and instructions to “pay it forward.”