MARSHFIELD, Mo. -- A man has helped his community so much that now they're helping him. He's raising money for the Ronald McDonald house, but not alone.
TJ Slocum has been working for the McDonald's restaurant here for nearly six years, all of which he's been participating in the Share a Heart campaign. He sells paper hearts and the profits go to the Ronald McDonald House. The story doesn't end there; that's where it begins.
Most of us don't think about it but sometimes it's the simplest of exchanges that do wonders for the heart.
"Hi guys," TJ said on a recent day as he walked by a full table.
The regular customers know TJ is someone special.
"He's a bubbly personality. He interacts well with the customers. Most of them know him by name," General Manager Brad Oberbeck said of his employee.
"All the people know me so much," TJ said.
That's because he's touched their hearts with a hello and an incredible passion for something close to his heart.
"We didn't know he was going to be born with a heart defect or Down syndrome but we got to know the people at the Ronald McDonald House after he was born, because we had to stay there," said TJ's mom, Debbie.
In his 23 years, TJ has been hospitalized dozens of times and his parents have been guests at the Ronald McDonald House. So it only makes sense TJ would want to work at McDonald's and support a place that's supported him.
"The first year he worked here, he sold hearts for the Share a Heart campaign just to friends and family, and I think he did like $700," Debbie said.
Last year, TJ sold more than $10,000 worth of hearts, making his store the Ozarks' Share a Heart Campaign champion. He's not done.
"I'm going for $11,000," TJ said.
His employer is helping. Tuesday, Feb. 19, is "McTJ Night," at which 20 percent of everything sold goes to TJ and his goal.
"It's something we've never done before," Oberbeck said.
"It's a very emotional thing. If you know TJ, you know he has a big heart," said TJ's mom.
Because of that big heart, everybody knows TJ.
"See you later, TJ," a customer called over his shoulder as he left the restaurant.
It started with the simplest of exchanges.
"Hi," TJ said to another group of diners.
It ends with thousands of hearts.
As of Saturday, TJ was already about half way to his $11,000 goal all on his own. He says, next year, he's setting his sights on $12,000.
All McDonald's restaurants in the Ozarks participate in the Share a Heart Campaign for all of February. You don't have to go into the restaurant to buy a heart; in fact, TJ takes them around to local businesses.