By Tech. Sgt. Cheresa D. Theiral, 140th Wing Public Affairs, Colorado Air National Guard
/ Published January 07, 2009
Colorado -- Some know her name. Others don't know her at all. But many service members and first responders in two communities south of Denver know they can get free coffee at two select Starbucks locations, despite the fact they've never met her.
It's a simple act, really, a cup of coffee here and there. But she sees it as more than that. It's her own personal cause; one she has gladly undertaken for more than two years running.
She doesn't do it for the accolades she receives. In fact, for a long time she preferred to remain anonymous. But the mystery of Cindy Barnhill wouldn't last in the hearts of the Coloradans who have had their spirits -- and autonomic nervous systems -- lifted by her generous supply of caffeinated concoctions.
Barnhill, of Parker, Colo., is a prime example of an American patriot, and supporting the men and women who ensure her freedom and safety is just something she does.
"I appreciate what everyone has given back to me," she said. "You're letting me drive around, have my freedom. If I want to go shopping, if I want to do this or I want to do that, I can do it, and it's because of you."
So the simple act of buying coffee for military members, police officers, firefighters and emergency responders is just one of the ways this patriot thanks them for their selfless service.
Who is she, really?
At the Colorado National Guard headquarters in Centennial, Colo., Barnhill is known as "Java Angel," but her friend Andrea Sedlosky has even more kind words to say.
"She's probably one of the most kind-hearted people that I've ever met," said Sedlosky. She's just a very genuine, caring human being that won't stop doing for others. [She] thinks about others before she thinks about herself. [She's] unselfish, giving, non-pretentious, non-ostentatious, doesn't look for attention; just a very simple, kindhearted person."
"My mom and dad always taught me to have the highest respect for people," said Barnhill as she described her upbringing. As if speaking of another world altogether, she pointed to an era that called for the utmost respect to be paid to those serving their communities and nation, whether in the military or other types of civil service.
"And who do we call on when the times are tough?" she asked rhetorically. "You need to respect them when you don't need them, too."
"Being out in public with Cindy is very interesting because every time she runs into anybody in uniform, she approaches them, shakes their hand, introduces herself, tells them thank you for their service, and I just stand in the background going 'Okay, there's another one,'" said Sedlosky. "I don't know if I could run around and say 'Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you,' but she does, personally and financially."
Two and a half years ago, Cindy's husband Roger passed away from cancer. Before he died, the World War II buff and son of a decorated Army veteran told her she had to go on.
Shortly after Roger's death, the grief-stricken widow attended a Hoedown for Heroes event in Loveland, Colo., where she met a man whose son had died a week earlier in Iraq. She was so touched by his fortitude despite his circumstances, that she was inspired to shake hands with, and say "Thank you" to, every service member she met that day.
And she hasn't stopped since.
But she wanted to do more than mere words and simple gestures to express her profound gratitude.
That fateful day in Loveland, coupled with her late husband and father-in-law's spirits, inspired her to do more to give back to all her American heroes, but she had no idea what.
Part of her daily routine included getting her caffeine fix at her local Starbucks. It wasn't long before she began noticing so many other coffee aficionados - military members, police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians - satisfying their cravings there as well.
Then, like a shot of espresso, the idea to buy their coffee came to her. But rather than let the short burst of stimulant filter out her bloodstream, the cause began coursing through her blood. And like any loyal parent, once her coffee-for-service mission was born, she held on to it fiercely.
And she's never looked back.
"This is something I think my husband would be very proud of because he told me before he died that I had to go on with my life," she said. "And I promised him that. We were married 22 years and I never broke a promise to him, and I wasn't going to start now."
So, inspired by her late husband and father-in-law, and the Gold Star father and the plethora of service members she met one fateful day in Loveland, she went on.
And she's continued to go on for the last two and a half years, spending more than $15,000 on her caffeinated -- or, if you prefer, decaffeinated -- cause, dedicated to the men and women who put their lives on the line in the service of our community, state and nation.
Accolades for an awesome lady
When Barnhill began her undertaking, she had no idea what a profound impact it would have on the people she was serving.
"The support I've gotten from all of you [military and first responders], I mean the thanks mean so much to me and helps me get through the grief of losing my husband," said Barnhill.
In fact, she's received so many accolades, that the Starbucks on Lincoln Avenue in Parker bought a scrapbook to hold all of them. Military members, police officers, firefighters and EMTs have left their business cards, patches from their uniforms, pins and coins for Barnhill. But perhaps most meaningful of all comes from the hearts of those who have had their spirits lifted by her.
"This is just a small thank you for your gift to us as firemen, cops and military heroes," reads one letter signed by Colorado State Trooper and former U.S. Marine Mike Witkowski. "It is amazing that after your loss you can still find the strength to give!"
Other notes echo those comments.
"Thank you for your generosity and support. Serving folks like you is easy," said Navy Chief Petty Officer Ron McKenzie, an Iraq veteran.
"Thank you for the coffee!" said Brandi Jorgens, a registered nurse with AirLife Denver. "You brighten my days which are often not so fun!"
"It is because of people like you that I am proud to serve for this country," said another person, whose signature is illegible.
"Your generosity and thoughtfulness always leaves me with a smile. Thank you for recognizing our men and women in blue," said Bob Baker, operations chief with the South Metro Fire Rescue Authority.
The outside of one envelope tucked neatly inside the scrapbook reads: "To a person that makes the fight all worth it at the end of the day! Thanks for the support during a time of need." The card inside is signed simply "The Troops".
And although all the feedback she's received has been positive, Barnhill often wonders whether buying coffee is really enough. But she simply couldn't think of anything else she could do to show everyone as a group what their service means to her. And as to the simple gift she's giving back, "It means the world to me and I will not stop this," she said.
Although she has received numerous offers for assistance to her cause, she doesn't want help. This is her personal undertaking. "This was my way of giving back," she said. "Doing this is a reason to get out of bed ... and carry on."