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More than $50,000 in ‘tips’ goes to barista targeted in Facebook post by anti-mask customer

A screenshot of a viral GoFundMe campaign with a picture of Starbucks barista Lenin Gutierrez.
A screenshot of a GoFundMe post shows the photo of Starbucks barista Lenin Gutierrez that a customer posted to Facebook in an attempt to shame him for enforcing the store’s mask policy.
(Lauren J. Mapp / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Tips for a San Diego Starbucks barista are pouring in on GoFundMe after he shared the cafe’s mask-wearing policy with a woman lacking a face covering who later tried to shame him in a Facebook post.

The original post went viral with more than 133,000 comments and 49,000 shares before it was taken down Friday, and a GoFundMe campaign started on the barista’s behalf has raised more than $50,000 in “tips” for him, and it’s steadily increasing.

In the customer’s post Monday, Amber Lynn Gilles said barista Lenin Gutierrez refused to serve her when she entered the store in Clairemont without a face covering. Gilles posted a photo she took of him in the store along with the following message:

“Meet Lenen from Starbucks who refused to serve me cause I’m not wearing a mask. Next time I will wait for cops and bring a medical exemption.”

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Gilles didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In a video response posted Wednesday on Facebook, Gutierrez, 24, shared his side of the story and thanked everyone who donated to the GoFundMe campaign. He said he had been trying to explain the store’s mask policy and offer a way to still serve the customer just as she started cursing and calling other customers “sheep” before leaving.

“I was going to show her the paper showing that we’ve been requiring face masks but we can still help, but before I could say anything she flipped me off and she said, ‘No, I don’t need one,’” Gutierrez said. “She started cursing up a storm, she started calling people sheep and she left, and within a few minutes she came back and she asked for my name.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, masks or face coverings are now required when in public spaces throughout the state. There is an exemption for children younger than 2 and those who have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing one.

The requirement was announced June 18 as part of the continued effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Early scientific evidence shows that face coverings help to reduce disease transmission.

The United States has set single-day records for new coronavirus cases several days this week, reaching more than 40,000 new daily cases by Friday.

A Starbucks spokesperson said the company is adhering to COVID-19 guidelines from both the Centers for Disease Control and local governments at their stores. In line with that guidance, face coverings are required for most customers, but accommodations can be made for those with health conditions that prevent them from wearing coverings.

“We want everyone to feel welcome in our stores,” the representative said. “We respectfully request customers follow social distancing and safety protocols recommended by public health officials, including wearing a facial covering when visiting our stores.”

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In an interview with KNSD-TV Channel 7 in San Diego, Gilles said she’s received “thousands” of death threats since the post went live. Gilles said she is an anti-vaxxer and believes masks are ineffective. Several of her Facebook photos show her attending anti-vaccination protests.

Gutierrez would not comment but has authorized Matt Cowan — who started the GoFundMe campaign — to speak on his behalf.

Cowan lives in Orange County and started the campaign after he and several of his friends decided they wanted to tip Gutierrez for his service to the public health effort. The original goal was to reach $1,000, and Cowan said he has been amazed by the overwhelming response in support of Gutierrez.

“Based on the success of the GoFundMe, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people felt that same sentiment and just wanted to give a few dollars and put it in a ‘tip jar,’” Cowan said. “I never in a thousand years would have thought that this would go as far as it has.”

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In his Facebook video response, Gutierrez said he’s been working at Starbucks but dreams of working as a dancer and dance instructor. He was teaching dance to children before the state’s stay-at-home order was put in place in mid-March and said he’ll put the money toward the goal of teaching again.

“All I really want to be able to do is to be able to show dance to others and show how much I love it, how much it affected me,” he said. “If I can show that to somebody else, that would be amazing to change their life like it changed mine.”

Mapp writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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