When Kim Allison visited a Walgreens in Dunedin to pick up some prints she had ordered, there was a bit of confusion.
"They said I had paid for the order, but I hadn't," said Allison, who lives in Dunedin. "I was wondering, 'Did I lose my marbles?' "
It turns out the store's overnight photo technician was so moved by the photos, showing a young soldier and a grave site, that he paid for them out of his own pocket. It cost $5.50, but to Allison it was a priceless gesture.
On March 11, 2013, her youngest son, Army Spc. Zachary Shannon, died in a Black Hawk helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
Shannon, a 2010 graduate of Dunedin High School, was just 21. He was the last service member who grew up in the Tampa area to die in Operation Enduring Freedom, as the war was officially called.
Allison picked up the prints over the Memorial Day weekend. On Saturday night, she finally got to meet Matthew Bower, the Walgreens employee.
"I cannot even begin to tell you how I felt," Allison said. "Such a simple gesture made such a big impact."
Bower, 28, didn't know anything about the young man in the pictures. But the photos of Shannon and his grave site left a lasting impression.
"While printing your photos, I couldn't help but notice who they were of," Bower wrote in a note to Shannon's mother, slipped into the envelope with the prints.
Bower wrote that he was sure Shannon "was an amazing man and soldier. I could never say how much I appreciate what he has done or what others have done protecting our freedom."
For Bower, a lifelong civilian, it was an easy decision. Especially after he realized Shannon died serving his country.
"I decided right then and there I was going to pay for those photos," he said from his home in Tarpon Springs. "I have a brother-in-law who is a Marine. He was in for five years and did one tour in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. I have cousins in the Air Force and I have a friend in the Army who lost his leg in Iraq. This is why it meant a lot to me."
It meant a lot to Walgreens, too. Bower is among seven nominees for the company's Champion of Champions award, he said. The honor goes to employees who show commitment to community and extraordinary customer care, said spokesman James W. Graham in Deerfield, Ill.
Bower grew up near Chicago, where the awards dinner is scheduled in October.
Kim Allison was out with friends Saturday when she decided to stop at the Walgreens to see if Bower was there so she could thank him in person.
He was, and she did.
She waited three months to tell the story about the prints because she was worried Bower might get in trouble for his good deed. She was relieved to find quite the opposite — and that Bower appreciated a gift she sent.
"He was even nicer in person," Allison said. "And he was wearing a bracelet of Zack's that I had given him."
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman