(ALBANY, N.Y.) — Help has poured into New York from many places as the coronavirus has killed thousands, but the most humble of gifts — a single N-95 mask — brought a mist to the eyes of the state’s governor.
A retired farmer in Kansas mailed the mask to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying the couple hoped it could be used by a doctor or nurse.
Cuomo read the entire letter at his daily briefing as an example of courage and generosity in dark times.
“I am a retired farmer hunkered down in N.E. Kansas with my wife who has but one lung and occasional problems with her remaining lung,” read the hand-written letter from Dennis Ruhnke, also signed by his wife, Sharon. “We are in our 70s now and frankly I am afraid for her.”
Nevertheless, Ruhnke wrote, the couple had five masks and wished to give one to help New York’s battle against the virus.
“Enclosed find a solitary N-95 mask left over from my farming days. It has never been used” the letter said. “If you could, could you please give this mask to a nurse or a doctor in your city.”
Cuomo’s eyes misted as he brandished the mask at his daily briefing.
“You want to talk about a snapshot of humanity,” Cuomo said. “You have five masks, what do you do? Do you keep all five? Do you hide the five masks, do you keep them for yourself or others? No, you send one mask. You send one mask to New York for a doctor or nurse. How beautiful is that? How selfless is that? How giving is that?”
“It’s that love, that courage, that generosity of spirit that makes this country so beautiful,” Cuomo said. “And it’s that generosity for me makes up for all the ugliness that you see. Take one mask, I’ll keep four.”
Reached by telephone, Dennis Ruhnke said he was surprised at the public attention.
“Simply watching the news, and day after day after day the death was rising. And they were pushing the N-95 thing so much. I thought I had some masks somewhere. I went back to the farm, dug around in some masks and lo and behold they were there,” he said, adding that he looked up the governor’s address online to send the letter.
Ruhnke said he would like to know who ultimately receives the mask.
“I would have felt terrible if I threw it away, but it made me feel pretty good to send it on to somebody who might be able to use it,” he said. “They sounded almost desperate for masks. So I thought, it was just one little gesture. But maybe if you get enough of these little gestures, it will all come out for the better in the end.”
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Contributor: MARINA VILLENEUVE / AP