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A branch of Sesame Donuts in Raleigh Hills opened on Powell; now a petty theft thrusts it into the limelight

PAIGE WALLACE - Violet Bair, who works at the Sesame Donuts store on S.E. Powell, watched a brazen thief dart in the door and steal her tip jar. Later, the Inner Southeast Portland community came together to replenish what shed lost - and then some!  Late in the afternoon on Tuesday, February 22, a teen ran into Sesame Donuts at 4102 S.E. Powell Boulevard, grabbed the tip jar, and bolted out the door. She jumped into a car with an accomplice, and sped off.

"This girl was, like, lightning fast!" remarked 20-year-old Violet Bair, who was working alone behind the counter. "It was just shocking!" Bair said the stolen tips amounted to only $10 to $20, all her tips on that shift.

A moment later, in walked Foster-Powell resident K.J. Berg, on her way home from a stressful workday, and ready to treat herself to a doughnut. She soon realized something was up.

"She just looked at me wide-eyed," Berg said.

As Bair told her story, she wondered how the young thieves thought stealing was okay. She asked aloud why their parents hadn't taught them better. The two women chatted for a few minutes, until the tension in the air eased. Then Berg bought several doghnuts, left a generous tip, and headed home.

Afterward, she couldn't shake the encounter. "What struck me was, she didn't demonize the girls, you know? Her response was so empathic, given the circumstance."

So Berg, a therapist, decided ask her Inner Southeast Portland neighbors to shift the dynamic from stressful to hopeful.

"Anyone want a doughnut for dessert tonight? Sesame Donuts tips stolen!" Berg wrote on the neighborhood social media site NextDoor. She described the crime, and called her community into action. "Maybe go and tip the sweet woman a dollar while you are at it! "I thought it would be cool to shower her with tips and turn her day around," she told THE BEE.

The post garnered 400 reactions, and more than 140 comments, from residents in Creston-Kenilworth, Foster-Powell, Woodstock, Sellwood, Westmoreland, Brentwood-Darlington, Brooklyn, and beyond. One woman from Gresham said she was coming in to buy doughnuts.

Bair began to notice a steady flow of exceptionally generous customers. "People just started tipping fives and tens. I was so confused! Finally, someone came and dropped $20 and said, 'I'm so sorry about what happened to your tips'."

By closing time, Sesame Donuts' shelves were nearly empty. "I hadn't ever seen us sell out of almost every doughnut, like we did that day!" She felt shocked again, but in a good way.

Over the next few days, Bair collected more than $200 in tips. She watched happily as her co-workers benefitted from that same customer generosity during their shifts.

Berg felt moved that her neighbors responded so willingly. "It was like medicine for my soul," she said. "I think people feel really burned out on being altruistic, so this gives them a chance to express that – while being rewarded with a doughnut!"

When asked about reporting the crime to law enforcement, Bair explained she thought the young thieves must be in desperate straits, to steal such a small amount from a small business. She didn't call the police because she didn't want to add to the girls' struggles.

For both women, the community outpouring added sweetness to an otherwise distasteful experience.

"I feel so blessed, and I want to give my deepest thanks," Bair said. "I always do try to hold onto the belief that nice people have good things happen to them – but I never expected this."

Berg hopes Bair will hold onto that positive outlook. "She has really great evidence right now to support her going on in the world with faith in humanity."

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