Alyssa O’Neill’s Request Sparks Widespread AJO Movement of Strangers Paying it Forward

September 27, 2013 Updated: September 27, 2013

The request from Alyssa Josephine O’Neill for a pumpkin spiced latte the next day never got met–she died that same day.

But her parents took action soon after, going to a Starbucks in Erie in Pennsylvania and buying lattes for 40 people. 

When they told the employees what they were doing, the employees all donated drinks until the number was up to 90.

Then, news spread on social media, and people started buying drinks for people across the world with the tag #AJO.

The movement has spread to other things, too, such as toys and dinners.

“My wife and I have said the words, ‘amazing,’ ‘awesome,’ and ‘magical’ more than we ever have in our entire lives,” Jason O’Neill, Alyssa’s father, told TODAY. “We never thought it would spread like this.”

“We’re still in disbelief, and every time we think, ‘There’s no way they can top this,’ something more amazing happens.”

Alyssa, who died of an epileptic seizure, was a high school cheerleader who had plans to become a nurse to help others with epilepsy.

“Her death was a complete shock,’’ Jason said. “We were driving her to school every day because she couldn’t drive as a result of her condition, and we thought that by having her at home, we could keep her as safe as possible. It still didn’t work out as we wanted it to.”

The family has also started the AJO Forever Fund with two goals: A scholarship fund for local cheerleaders in Erie who want to become nurses, and to help families of children with epilepsy.

“We remembered all the times we had to travel to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh to stay for a few days for testing, and we would have to book a hotel room in the middle of the night, which is not the most affordable thing to do in a big city,’’ Jason said. “A lot of families are not able to do these things, so their kids are going down there (to the hospital) themselves and often are waiting for the medication. I couldn’t imagine having a son or daughter have to wait weeks for medications.”

And while the family is sad about Alyssa’s death, they are also grateful for what is happening.

“All of this is happening because of Alyssa,’’ Sarah O’Neill, her mother, said. “This just might have been her purpose.” 

See photos from people paying it forward here.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber