Home / Health / Starbucks barista who received $ 100K over face mask dustup: “This is so mind-blowing”

Starbucks barista who received $ 100K over face mask dustup: “This is so mind-blowing”

They brought him the money in a silver suitcase and placed them on a picnic table at the Miramar reservoir. Up came the cap: $ 100,000 in paper-clamped stacks on $ 50 bills.

All these greenbacks next to all the blue water – no wonder Lenin Gutierrez’s eyes grew big.

“I’ve never seen anything like it except in the movies,” he said.

Three weeks ago, the 24-year-old college student was working at a Starbucks in Clairemont when a customer came in without wearing a face mask. He pointed out the rules for coronavirus, she left, and then she criticized him on Facebook for refusing to serve her.

It caught the eye of Matt Cowan, an Irvine marketing and brand strategist, who thinks masks are a good idea and bullying on the internet badly. So he started a GoFundMe campaign: “Tips for Lenin to Stand Up to a San Diego Karen,”

; using a social media label for over-privileged people who boil over in public.

He was hoping for $ 1,000.

The campaign reached it within a few hours and then hit $ 5,000 and continued to grow. Something about it struck a nerve, vibrating along the political and cultural fall lines that are shattering so much of American life today, even during a public health crisis.

Newspapers and television stations in San Diego and elsewhere made up stories, which spread the word and attracted interest from donors as far as Australia.

Most gave small sums, $ 10 or $ 20, but there were many of them – nearly 8,000 – and as the cash poured in, Cowan said he realized that his virtual tip can not just be said. It changed a life.

Gutierrez grew up in Chula Vista in a family without much money. He said they ate a lot of rice and beans. At Christmas, the boxes under the tree were nicely wrapped, but mostly empty.

So when the GoFundMe got $ 10,000, he was ecstatic. When it hit $ 50,000, he was stunned. One hundred thousand? He doesn’t have the words.

“It’s more money than anyone in my family has ever had,” he said.

What once seemed like dreams are goals and achievable. He plans to move from community college to Cal State Fullerton and study kinesiology, human movement mechanics. His passion is hip-hop infused dance, and he wants to apply what he learns to that art form and share it with others as an athlete trainer.

“I feel I have been given the incredible opportunity I never saw coming,” he said, “and I do not want to waste it.”

Mask war

This was not the first time a customer entered Starbucks without a mask, Gutierrez said. It wasn’t the last time either.

“I would say that about 80 percent of the population is cooperative and wears masks,” he said. “Another 10 percent just forgot and apologize for not having one. And then maybe 10 percent just don’t want one. “

His experience is in line with public voting on the issue. A Pew Research report from late June found that 80 percent of Americans wear masks at least part of the time while in stores, and 65 percent have worn them all or most of the time. Seven percent said they never wear a mask.

The survey registered a partisan divide. Democrats and democratically inclined independents are more likely to say they regularly wear masks than Republicans and Republican leaners (76 percent to 53 percent).

Starbucks is not the only place this plays out. “It’s a daily thing,” said Todd Walters, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135, which represents grocery stores, retail and other employees in San Diego and Imperial counties. “And the sad thing is that people have turned it into a political protest. If you want to protest, do it on the street. Why are you throwing the poor grocery in the middle of it? “

He said he knows of clerks who have been told by customers that they asked them to wear masks. “It’s like they dare you to say something,” he said. And he knows of clerks who have become famous by their bosses after customers without a mask complained about being confronted.

“The workers sometimes feel they can’t win no matter what they do,” he said.

Nationally, some of the confrontations have become violent, even deadly. There have been arrests, including a couple in Yuma who reportedly coughed at employees at a Walmart last Wednesday after being asked to put on masks.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents Target, Walmart, Best Buy and other companies, said in a letter to the country’s governors last week that mixed messages from selected masks officials, combined with a confusing patchwork of regulations and law enforcement, put employees and customers in the risk zone.

“Although the majority of Americans complied, dealers are concerned about cases of hostility and violence experienced by frontline employees by a vocal minority of customers who are under the mistaken impression that wearing a mask is a violation of their civil liberties.” said the letter, signed by the group’s president Brian Dodge.

“Wearing a mask is about respecting others and preventing the spread of a deadly disease. This should no longer be discussed. “

Keeping their day job

Gutierrez’s first name, Lenin, was a nod from his father to revolutionary Russian communist Vladiimir Lenin, which makes the GoFundMe campaign strangely fitting. Lenin believed in the redistribution of wealth. Some of it has just been distributed to barista.

He did not expect to get it in cash. Cowan and a colleague, Will Collette, brought it to him last week. They did it so they could film the whole thing and put it on YouTube. It was also a way to show donors that the campaign was legitimate; There have been fundraising scandals where people collect money for probably worthy causes and then get the profit.

“Great day to change someone’s life,” Cowan said at one point in the video, just before he parked his car at Miramar Reservoir and walked toward Gutierrez with the metal portfolio.

“I don’t know what to say,” Gutierrez said as he opened the case and saw the stacks of bills. “This is so eye-catching right now.”

He lives in Clairemont with one of his sisters, who was with him at the picnic table that day. His other sister was also there. So was his lawyer.

He had to get smarter about many things because all of this happened, he said. What is legal. What is wise. He has also spoken to a financial advisor.

“Many doors open to me because of this,” he said. “I want to make sure I do the right thing and set myself up for my life on the road.”

That’s why the first place he went after he left the container was the bank. All the money in his hand made him nervous. He believed that other motorists looked at him, looked at his windfall and found out how to steal it.

Nothing happened, he said. He put in the money, and is now trying to settle into something approaching normalcy, even when his Starbucks coworkers sometimes trick him into being “famous.”

He has worked part-time for the coffee company for about three years and has no plans to quit. “I don’t see this as something that means I can take a break from life,” he said. “I will continue as if the money never existed.”

It also includes masks.

“That’s the least we can do,” he said. “If all doctors and health experts are right, we can help stop the spread of the virus. And if they are wrong, it’s just a mask on their face. It’s not that big. “

Unless of course someone makes it one.

Lenin Gutierrez is among the judges for “Stop Spreading,” a San Diego Union-Tribune-sponsored contest to promote mask wear and other safety practices.

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