Wake County

Donations pour in for Raleigh grocery store clerk battling cancer

Emil Farag greeted customers at Kroger on Six Forks Road in Raleigh for nearly 20 years. He's a favorite of neighbors, who set up a GoFundMe campaign after learning that Farag had pancreatic cancer. Farag is currently out of work and undergoing chemotherapy. He is seen at his home in Raleigh, NC on March 24, 2017.
Emil Farag greeted customers at Kroger on Six Forks Road in Raleigh for nearly 20 years. He's a favorite of neighbors, who set up a GoFundMe campaign after learning that Farag had pancreatic cancer. Farag is currently out of work and undergoing chemotherapy. He is seen at his home in Raleigh, NC on March 24, 2017. cseward@newsobserver.com

Emil Farag can’t believe all the attention he’s received since his loyal customers at a Kroger grocery store started raising money to help him while he’s fighting cancer and out of work.

An online fundraiser on GoFundMe has raised more than $24,000 in four days. On Wednesday, Farag’s story was featured on “Good Morning America.”

“I never expected any of this,” said Farag, who worked at Kroger on Six Forks Road at Wake Forest Road for nearly 20 years until he left in October. That month, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Farag greeted customers with a wide grin and offered words of encouragement in the checkout line. He often gave children dollar bills on their birthdays and danced to make them laugh. He kept a box of toys at the store for them to play with.

“He would say, ‘Hello, my brother!’ ” said Jeff Whittaker. “He was so enthusiastic and happy to see people. You would always walk away smiling, feeling better after you left.”

Farag moved to the Triangle from Egypt in 1998 and got a job stocking shelves at Kroger. The husband and father of two wanted to work with customers directly and eventually became a check-out clerk.

He used to write down customers’ names on paper so he would remember them.

“At many stores, they treat customers like robots,” Farag said. “They’re not robots, they’re humans.”

Farag’s wife does not work, and the family is struggling to keep up with medical bills and mortgage payments.

Several rounds of chemotherapy have sapped Farag’s strength. He said he has mood swings and is in a lot of pain. He said his Christian faith has kept him going.

“Jesus changes your life completely,” he said. “God planned for all of this.”

Heydt Philbeck said Farag greeted his daughter Boone by name every time they visited the store.

“She would run up to him and give him a big hug,” Philbeck said. “I truly love the guy. My whole family adores Emil. Emil is such a beautiful person – one of the most beautiful souls I have ever met.”

A group of customers is planning to hold an event for Farag and give him a check for the money raised through the fundraiser.

Eventually, Farag hopes to return to his job, but for now he is focused on his health.

“I don’t want to cheat on my job before I can give it 100 percent,” he said. “I want to go back soon.”

As for the customers who adore him?

“I don’t see them as customers, I see them as family,” Farag said. “I just tried to make it fun for them every day. If you give love, you will get it back.”

Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; miszler@newsobserver.com

Want to donate?

To donate to the GoFundMe campaign for Emil Farag, go to http://bit.ly/2n2x3Up.

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