Every boy’s birthday party should be memorable. But for one special boy with autism in Mobile, Alabama, a birthday party became a chance to fulfill a dream thanks to a supportive community and a Chick-fil-A manager who was willing to bend the rules a bit. Fourteen-year-old Elijah Sprague spent his birthday passing out drinks and smiles at the restaurant’s drive-thru window, something he’s always wanted to do.
Oh, and there were cookies for everyone!
Elijah was born at just 22 weeks old and spent the first six months of his life in neonatal intensive care. He would eventually be diagnosed with cerebral palsy and autism. He wasn’t expected to make it to his first birthday, and was set to enter foster care after he was released from the hospital.
Rene Sprague met Elijah at the University of South Alabama Children’s and Women’s Hospital where she worked as a nurse. She and her husband had just had an attempted adoption fall through when she found out Elijah needed a home. “He was ours the minute we brought him home,” she told Alabama Life & Culture.
Elijah did make it to his first birthday, and each of his birthdays is a victory worth celebrating. Elijah loves horses, Target, elevators, Spaghettios… and definitely Chick-fil-A. Elijah’s uncle, Walt Gilstrap, just happens to be one of the managers at a nearby Chick-fil-A restaurant, so Rene asked him if it might be possible to celebrate Elijah’s fourteenth birthday at the restaurant when it was closed.
Chick-fil-A famously never opens on Sundays unless, in rare cases, it feels it can serve the community by doing so. After the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, for example, a local Chick-fil-A opened on a Sunday and staff volunteered to feed first responders.
The owner-operator of Elijah’s hometown Chick-fil-A kindly decided that Elijah’s birthday merited an exception to their Monday through Saturday policy.
Restaurant manager Walt and his girlfriend went in early on a Sunday to make tons of cookies so that Elijah could hand them out to friends and family coming through the drive-thru. After Elijah served them, people came inside for a party and a piece of cookie cake (because there’s no such thing as too much cookie). About 40 cars came through the drive-thru so that Elijah could fulfill his fast-food dream.
Rene was incredibly grateful for the way the community supported her son. After the party, she posted this message on her Facebook page: “The way people love this kid amazes me. It has truly changed the way I live my life. Loving people with your whole heart, judgements aside and with no anticipation of rewards. Thank you to every single person that loves our Elijah.”
Happy birthday, Elijah!