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What you need to know for 10/19/2017

Foss: The Muffin Man loves to give

Foss: The Muffin Man loves to give

He believes the world would be a better place if we gave just a little bit more
Foss: The Muffin Man loves to give
Thaddeus Pinckney, the man behind The Muffin Man, makes a delivery Frida.
Photographer: Eric Jenks/For The Daily Gazette

"You even put a bow on it!" Tina New exclaims, when The Muffin Man hands her a tray containing one dozen blueberry muffins. 

Thaddeus Pinckney, the man behind The Muffin Man, smiles. 

He gives people free muffins to spread joy and inspire giving, and he seems delighted when New tells him she plans to give the muffins away to neighbors. He later reflects that "It's amazing how something so small can make someone so happy." 

I had never heard of Pinckney — or The Muffin Man — until very recently, but he does have a following. 

The Muffin Man is a fixture on Schenectady's public access station, SACC.TV, and WNYA My4, where his show, "Do You Know The Muffin Man?", airs on Sunday mornings. 

The show showcases local charities, with the goal of highlighting lesser-known organizations and getting people to donate to them. One recent segment featured The Bridge Church in Schenectady; another featured Crossroads Center for Children in Glenville. 

In addition to doing his show, Pinckney, 40, delivers free muffins and cookies several times a week, visiting people in hospitals, homes, soup kitchens and other places throughout the Capital Region.

He arrives in costume — an aqua blue shirt, apron and pink tie. He stores the head of his costume — a friendly, bespectacled face, topped by a chef's hat — in the back of his car while he drives. When we arrive at New's house, she steps onto the front stoop before he can get the head on. 

"You don't have to put that on!" New yells, cheerfully. "I know who you are!" 

I joined Pinkney on his Friday morning muffin run, which took him from his small home on Gerling Street in Schenectady to New's house in Albany. 

I expected Pinckney to be quirky, simply because donning a Muppet-like costume to deliver free muffins is a quirky thing to do. But Pinckney isn't quirky. One of the more surprising things about Pinckney is how not-quirky he seems when you meet him in person. 

He's a humble man, who believes that the world would be a better place if we gave just a little bit more. It's a simple and inspiring message, one we could all learn a little bit from. 

As a younger man, Pinckney's focus was business. 

Inspired by an abundance of blueberries at his mother's house in New Jersey, he began making and selling muffins, which led him to establish Luvins Muffins in 2001. He had studied food science at Rutgers University and marketing at the University at Albany, and Luvins Muffin fit both interests. 

The business grew quickly, from a kiosk at Colonie Center to a muffin-manufacturing business, based in Plattsburgh, that shipped frozen muffins to customers throughout the country, such as prisons and hotels. 

"At one time we were shipping 32,000 muffins a month," Pinckney recalled. 

Which is a lot, but it didn't exactly translate into fame and fortune. 

"We only made one cent per muffin," Pinckney said. "So I'm looking at a penny on the street and going, 'Wait, there's my muffin.'" 

Two different health problems inspired Pinckney to change course: the painful condition Crohn's disease, and a severe car accident that occurred while he was driving to Plattsburgh for work in 2007. He decided to shut down the manufacturing business shortly after the accident, and focus on giving. In 2010 he made his first free muffin delivery, to a funeral in Saratoga Springs. 

Pinckney still sells muffins — you can order them through his website, though I should probably note that he no longer makes the muffins, which are produced by Muffin Town in Chelsea, Mass. 

"Now it's more about the community, about getting out there and giving to the community," Pinckney said. "Making other people smile — it makes me smile. The material things don't make me smile as much as giving." 

People call and email Pinckney to arrange free muffin deliveries, often for friends and loved ones going through a hard time. His next delivery is this weekend, to a patient at Ellis Hospital. 

 "It's wonderful," New, 54, told me. "I couldn't wait [for the Muffin Man] to get here. I said, 'He's coming, he's coming.' I can't drive anymore, so I'm limited in what I do." She said giving away the muffins help her get out and spend time with neighbors. "It's a way to see how everybody is," she said. 

Which is what Pinckney likes to hear. 

"There's a light inside all of us," he told me. "Everybody loves to give." 

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