Coffee was flowing free for hundreds of Canadians at three Tim Hortons locations Thursday as the act of one Good Samaritan appeared to precipitate a wave of copycat java generosity.
Since Monday at least five cases of coffee philanthropy have been reported: one each in Red Deer, Alta., Calgary and Ottawa, and two in Edmonton.
Tim Hortons spokeswoman Michelle Robichaud said the company was "humbled by the generosity" that has been taken place across the country.
"Clearly this is someone who has a very pure heart and just wishes to put smiles on some people's faces and spread some good cheer," said Ms. Robichaud.
As news spread on social media, some skeptics speculated that the donations were part of an elaborate publicity stunt by the coffee chain.
But Ms. Robichaud said that's not the case.
"As brilliant as this is I can assure you that Tim Hortons has nothing to do with the Good Samaritans that have been purchasing coffees across the country," she said.
The first donation happened on Monday, when a young man in his mid-to-late 20s walked into Tim Hortons in downtown Edmonton and ordered a large double-double and a Boston cream doughnut.
And large coffees for the next 500 customers.
The man paid the $859 bill with his debit card and quickly left.
"It is not uncommon for people to pay it forward at our restaurants. That is something that happens every day," said Ms. Robichaud. "But something of this magnitude is not anything we've seen before."
Customers of a Tim Hortons in Calgary were the recipients of free coffee on Wednesday as another java benefactor told a cashier they would buy the next 500 cups of joe.
On Thursday morning a soon-to-retire city bus supervisor named Bob in Ottawa purchased morning coffee for 500 at a Tim Hortons near his work, Robichaud said.
Later the gesture was mirrored again in Red Deer by someone else treating 500 fellow Tim Hortons customers. Tim Hortons also reported a third instance on Thursday at a Tim Hortons as the Royal Alexandria Hospital in Edmonton.
Ms. Robichaud believes the latter charitable acts were all inspired by the first donation in Edmonton.
"We are thrilled that this first very generous act of kindness in Edmonton has created somewhat of a snowball effect across the country," she said.
"If ever there was going to be a copycat this is the one you would want."
Michael Nilsen from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, a group that creates philanthropic guidelines, said that the idea of being charitable can be very contagious.
"We often find that people are inspired in some way by what other people do and want to get involved," said Mr. Nilsen. "There is that unifying element to philanthropy."