Eric Knapp can’t help it. The words “Merry Christmas” slip out easily, and there’s a lighter bounce in his step from less weight on his shoulders.
“Somebody has changed his attitude on life,” said Debbie Myers, his girlfriend of 18 years. “He hated this or that before. Now it’s like, ‘Wow, there are people who care.’”
Holiday joy started early for the 43-year Gazette newspaper carrier.
A fire last month destroyed the recreational vehicle that he and Myers called home. After a Gazette article Nov. 14 detailed his misfortune, donations flooded in from near and far.
More than 100 letters and cards with cash and checks arrived from some of the 300 subscribers on his route, survivors of the Black Forest and Waldo Canyon fires who know his pain and strangers who were touched by his predicament.
“It’s a blessing in disguise that the motor home went up in flames,” Knapp said. “It’s unbelievable how people have helped us.”
Donations ranged from $10 to several checks of $1,000 each.
The night after the article appeared, 25 envelopes waiting on his customers’ doors totaled more than $5,400 — enough to buy another motor home.
In all, donors gave more than $20,000 to help the couple recover, as well as clothes, dishes, pet supplies for their two Pomeranians, bedding and Christmas decorations.
Help also came from the American Red Cross, a Walgreen’s clerk who filled prescriptions destroyed in the fire and the seller of their replacement motor home, who cut the price by $500.
The generosity brings tears to Knapp’s eyes.
“They’re from all over — Peyton, Monument, Falcon, old customers who moved to Arizona and still remember me,” he said.
Knapp started delivering newspapers when he was 11 and has stayed with the job more than four decades. His top-notch customer service makes him unforgettable, subscribers say.
“He’s so kind and so nice and always so willing to go the extra mile,” said Gale Richardson, who organized a West Side donation drive to benefit Knapp. “I thought people need to know. And if it had to happen, what a good time of year because people are in a giving mood.”
As a kid, Knapp began providing what he calls “pajama service,” placing papers on porches or in screen doors if the weather is bad or customers are elderly, injured or simply like to retrieve the morning paper from their doorstep.
“I do my best for my customers,” he said. “I go out of my way to see people get their papers the way they like it. I do my job.”
Some contributions came from an online appeal set up by Myers’ family. Those rose from $675 to $6,160, surpassing the $5,500 goal.
The couple’s new motor home apparently was meant to be. Another potential buyer looked at it first, but Knapp and Myers had cash in hand.
Ten days after the fire destroyed their RV, Knapp held the deed and title to their new home. A customer is letting the couple park on property he owns.
“We never thought we’d have one this nice,” Knapp said of the 1989 Fleetwood Pace Arrow.
The motor home spent a week in the shop, getting $800 worth of repairs, including a new ignition, spare tire, replaced broken window, battery and taillights.
Knapp, Myers and their teacup Pomeranians, Nita and Avalanche, started moving in Tuesday.
The new digs have many features their previous home did not, including a washer and dryer, ironing board, phone, air conditioning, heat, a bathtub and an oven.
Myers said she can’t wait to bake holiday goodies.
Knapp and Myers had been staying with another Gazette carrier, Connie Garcia, until they found a solution.
“My mom always left the back door open for kids who got kicked out of their house to come in,” Garcia said. “I’ve always helped people, and Eric is now opening his heart to pay this forward. It’s an amazing chain of events, a real Christmas miracle.”
Knapp is making a donation to the American Red Cross because of the help they got from the organization. He also paid Garcia for their month stay at her house. And he bought a homeless man a sleeping bag, blanket and sweater for his dog.
“It feels good to help others,” he said.
Knapp now plans to retire next year and travel with Myers in the motor home to visit relatives.
“I can’t say thank you enough to all who helped us with this disaster,” he said. “We’d be living in my car without the help. God bless you all.”