Kind-hearted firefighters clubbed together to buy a car for a cancer sufferer who baked them cookies each Christmas.
Karen Johnson, 54, works in a grocery store across the street from a fire station and spoiled the firemen by baking them festive treats every year.
The single mother had lived without a car for 10 years and sometimes had to walk six miles to and from work.
So when she was diagnosed with stage three rectal cancer the staff at Poudre Fire Authority in Fort Collins, Colorado, USA, decided to do something to help.
They did a collection and 27 firefighters donated a total of $1,800 – enough to buy a 1998 Honda Accord and insurance for a year.
And Karen was speechless when they presented her with the gift.
“I was in tears,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. It was wonderful of the firefighters.”
Poudre Fire Captain Jason Mantas explained that the team knew they had to do something for the cashier who greeted them with a smile every shift.
He said: “Every shift we went shopping at the grocery store and over the years, we got to know Karen.
“She was just someone who really loved the fire department and we always made sure we went through her check out line.
“We knew that she was a single mother and she didn’t have a car. She used to ride the bus to work.
“On weekends the bus route was unreliable and she would walk, one and a half hours each way.
“We felt we should do something for her and kicked around the idea of getting her a car.
“Then we were in the store one day and Karen told us she had been diagnosed with cancer.
“We felt like we had to do something for her.”
Karen, mother of Jason, 21, and Andrew, 19, was diagnosed with cancer in April and found it difficult to get to her hospital appointments without a car.
Captain Mantas, 45, said: “We spoke to other people in the store who told us that she had to bum rides to get to chemo.
“We decided to get her a car. We went throughout our station and took a collection.”
One firefighter, Brian Parker, donated his car to the cause, only taking $400 for the vehicle.
Captain Mantas said: “We took the money we had collected to get the car up to speed. We also paid for a year’s worth of insurance.
“We felt like we were giving her something that would give her a little bit of freedom and she would not have to worry about how she was going to get around.
“It was emotional in a good way.”
Karen added that the gift – handed over on September 2 – changed her life, making it much easier for her to go grocery shopping and get to her doctor’s appointments.
She said: “I had been without a car for so long, at least 10 years.
“I walked or took the bus everywhere. It was difficult. Sometimes the bus I took doesn’t run on Sundays so I ended up walking to work during the winter – three miles there and three miles back.
“A car is expensive and I never had enough after rent and looking after my kids.
“Now I can get around, I can go grocery shopping, I don’t have to rely on lifts and I’ve been able to get to my doctor’s appointments.”
Karen added that although it was a surprise, the kind gesture was in keeping with all she knew of the firefighters.
She said: “It was very much of a shock but I could see them doing that because I’ve known them for a while and they always come into our grocery store.
“They will always wait to come to my line because I look after them. They are like family.
“I bake them cookies each year, usually chocolate chip cookies but I’ve also given them Mississippi mud pie sweet treats.”
Karen is scheduled to have surgery to remove her tumour in December and is due back at work in February, when she will be reunited with her favourite customers.
She said: “I’ll be back at the grocery store and I’ll get to see my firefighter customers.”
She is still struggling to pay her medical bills and the firefighters have helped her set up a fundraising page to cover the costs.
To donate, visit: https://www.gofundme.com/aagp8f-help-karen-kick-cancer