Everyday Heroes: The Bread Lady
VANCOUVER, Wash. —
C-TRAN drivers, things are about to get sweet for you again.
The Bread Lady is starting to bake again.
"Right now I have 400 lbs. of flour, 400 lbs. of baking sugar, a got a couple dozen eggs in there," says Carolyn Hayden, better known as "The Bread Lady".
Carolyn's been baking bread for C-TRAN drivers for 38 years now, as a way to say thanks.
And this isn't you average, run-of-the-mill bread, either. The Bread Lady has blue ribbon skills. She won two first-place ribbons at last year's Clark County Fair.
Her varieties--pumpkin bread with craisins or chocolate chips, zucchini bread with crushed pineapple, and her famous banana nut bread--are made with love, with a passion for quality, and with a lot of butter.
And for almost four decades, C-TRAN's drivers have been the beneficiaries of her baking bug, mainly because she's been the beneficiary of their daily bus service around Vancouver.
"They're getting a little something that shows then that somebody cares, that somebody appreciates them," says The Bread Lady. "If I can touch their heart, that's all I care about. That's my way of saying thank you for taking me to the store, bringing me home, taking me to the doctor."
And thanks to her tasty treats, her bubbly attitude, and her dependence on C-TRAN to get around town, the bus drivers she encounters all seem to know who she is.
Even if they don't know her real name.
"Everybody knows who The Bread Lady is... half of 'em don't even know my name," she says.
"She's kind of a legend around the halls of C-TRAN, actually," says Christine Selk, C-TRAN's Communication and Public Affairs Manager. "She chooses a really delicious way to show us that she appreciates us and we love that."
But there's more to it than just appreciation.
"I think that just the giving of the bread is really wonderful, but I think it's kind of important to look a little bit deeper than that," says Selk. "C-TRAN really is a connection for folks between their own homes and personal lives and the rest of the community."
Drivers like Matt Wilson.
"We see her around, she waves sometime when you're going by," says Wilson, who's been driving buses for C-TRAN for several years. "She puts a lot of work into it. It does mean a lot that she does it."
And those days when The Bread Lady drops off a load of two or three-dozen loaves, there's a scramble, because the drivers realize they're getting a real treat.
"Some of us pick a loaf up and take it home, some of us just eat it there at the facility that we're at. It's really good stuff," says Wilson. "She makes a lot of different kinds so there's something for everybody."
And the rush to get some of The Bread Lady's best work is serious.
"I cannot believe how fast! I'll go back like within a half-hour and check it, and they say 'Oh, they're gone.' And I have to ask certain drivers, 'Well, did you get any bread?'," says The Bread Lady.
If the drivers say they missed out, they get chided with a smile.
"I say, 'Hey, you guys all know where I live! What's your excuse?'" she laughs.
The Bread Lady pays for her supplies out of her own pocket. She considers the labor of love and the appreciation she gets in return to be her therapy, the lift she needs after she experienced horrors at the hands of her fellow soldiers during her time in the Army.
"I'm dealing with my PTSD," she says, "And I'm almost... so far, so good."
We watched The Bread Lady make a batch of her famous banana nut bread in her tiny kitchen. She says the recipe started from a sticker on some Dole bananas four decades ago. Now, it's all hers.
"I have a certain way of doing this," she says, "They can't understand why I'm so picky about all this stuff."
If you want to make a better banana bread, take a hint from The Bread Lady. She only lightly beats her eggs, and they have to be room temperature or they don't mix right. Same with the butter. Three loaves get two whole sticks. The sugar is specially-made for baking, so it mixes better.
She also tries to turn out uniformly-sized loaves, but only so her deliveries don't start a ruckus in the C-TRAN breakroom.
"I don't want one bigger than the other because they'll sit there and fight over it," she says.
The Bread Lady recently added another responsibility: she's now the assistant superintendent of baking for the Clark County Fair. She's also considering entering a carrot cake and a cheesecake this year, in her mom's memory.
And she does all that, without tasting her own goodies. She suffers from Celiac Disease, an intolerance to gluten. All these bread she enjoys making, she can't eat.
She calls Celiac a "pain in the butt", but she says she's loaded up with Bob's Red Mills' One-to-One, a gluten-free flour mix that's made for baking. Soon, The Bread Lady will be able to once again dig into her own goodies.
"You don't know how much I want to eat this stuff so badly," she says.
Banana and zucchini breads aren't the only way The Bread Lady contributes to C-TRAN's daily operations. She's also active on C-TRAN's social media.
"What I love about her is we'll put 'C-TRAN SEEKING DRIVERS' notices on our social media and she'll always put 'And don't forget the best benefit: BREAD!'," says Selk. "She's an extra selling point for us: Insurance, great pay, and wonderful bread."
"For them to take an interest in me, to know me personally," she says, "I want them to know this is from my heart to theirs, and it touches my heart, plus my soul, because, I don't know... it means a lot."
"It just melts my heart."