Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Stepping Up.”
The only contact Theresa Collins ever had with her newspaper carrier was just that: the paper, rolled up at the bottom of her driveway, every morning, for more than two decades.
Then one day last month, a note fluttered out of the newspaper. It was from Gina Singer, who, with her daughter, Brittany, had been working this Mason Lake route for years. If you needed a mask to protect yourself during the coronavirus pandemic, the Singers wrote, we’re happy to make you one. Let us know how many and what color. No charge.
It was just what the couple needed. In addition to caring for her husband, Eddie, who suffered a massive stroke 16 years ago, Theresa Collins has lung issues of her own. Going out for anything felt like she was bringing trouble back with it.
(“It’s a hard journey,” Theresa said of caring for her husband through the pandemic, “but he’s still with me and we’ve been married 50 years.”)
She emailed Singer and asked for two masks. Red would be nice, she said. And thank you. Thank you. Thanks.
“A couple of days later, there were two masks in a plastic bag,” Collins remembered. “We were just so appreciative of them. We were just using old masks that my husband had for cutting wood. The elastic was breaking as we were down to nothing.
“She didn’t have to do that at all,” Theresa said of Singer and her daughter. “But from this little act of kindness, I know she is a kind, giving person.”
Singer, 48, who lives in Bremerton, waved off the praise. It was Brittany’s idea, and she’s done all this with the help of Gina’s mother, who has been generous with sewing advice and bags of leftover fabric.
Gina Singer, a 23-year distribution manager for the Kitsap Sun who also delivers the Tacoma News Tribune and The Seattle Times, has four employees tending to 1,000 customers in Belfair, Allyn, Union and Grapeview. She leaves the house at midnight, drives 20 minutes to Port Orchard to pick up the papers and then gets them to her carriers.
“I do not see my customers,” she said — unless their paper is missing or late. They all have her number.
Two years ago, Brittany took over one of her routes and noted right away that the customers were older. Then when the coronavirus hit, Brittany realized that those same customers might also be anxious — and in need of a mask.
“She said, ‘Hey, let’s make them for the customers,'” Gina remembered her daughter saying, then cracked: “It was a lovely thing until it involved me.”
Brittany found a mask pattern online, set up a sewing station in the dining room and got going.
“It got bigger,” Gina said, “and now the whole dining room table is filled with mask stuff and we have a production line going.”
Gina’s mom helped out, and gave them bags of leftover fabric. One piece was from a bathrobe Gina remembered from years ago; another was big enough to make 33 masks. Yet another had a frog pattern that they chose for a customer with frogs in her yard.
Brittany made and gave out 75 masks before they ran out of elastic. While they wait for more to be delivered, their waiting list has grown to 40 names.
Gina spoke about the emails she had received. Customers had paper masks that were falling apart, or ordered masks that weren’t coming for months. Others tucked envelopes of money into their newspaper tubes to help pay for supplies.
Curtis Huber, the senior director for Circulation & Audience Revenue at The Seattle Times, wasn’t surprised that a carrier would do something like this.
“People have a connection with their carriers,” Huber said, noting that newspaper carriers have stopped home invasions or been first on the scene of a car accident. Being out in the middle of the night, and knowing a place means keeping an eye out for others.
“This is the loving, caring actions of kind people,” Huber said of the Singers. “I just love it when you see people’s actions, and not just their words.”
Brittany didn’t have many when asked about her labor of love.
“I just wanted to be nice, you know,” she said. “Helpful. Masks are in high demand right now. They’re selling out of stores. People have health issues, they’re not able to leave the house.
“So people always say thank you,” she said, then paused. “A couple of times.”