She can remember the day she decided to become a newspaper carrier, and why more than 10 years ago she decided to give the job stereotypically done by teens and tweens a try.
“I was pregnant with my daughter,” said now 41-year old Tonya Keel. “My husband came home on his lunch break one day, packed all his stuff and left. He took all the money from our bank account, and everything we were making payments on. I needed money, fast.”
She thought throwing papers might be a way to earn that cash — and she was right. She doesn't care that today is International Newspaper Carrier Day, capping off National Newspaper Week. She just wants to be sure to get her routes delivered.
Today she will deliver six routes in all — delivering papers in Walton, Peabody and within Newton.
“I didn't want to go on welfare,” Keel said. “By the grace of God, this job came to me. I could not have asked for a better job.”
When she started throwing papers she had a 6 month old baby, a 7 year old son and she was pregnant. Her options were limited — and paying for daycare was not among them.
“It was flexibility,” Keel said. “I could take him to school and pick him up. I could make doctors appointments and never had to pay for daycare because I could take them with me. Financially I was not making a whole lot of money, but I wasn't having to spend any money to go to work.”
On her six routes she found more than cash as well — with her children in tow she delivered papers to nursing homes in the area. There she has found friends, and people who have enjoyed watching her children grow.
Keel's oldest is now a Marine, one who went off to the military with a lot of extra “grandparents” who have been part of his life for several years.
“They have watched my kids grow up,” Keel said. “My kids are doing fund-raiser stuff right now and everyone is 'come to our house, we'll buy stuff from you.' There are very few people on my routes who will tell my kids no. They make food for my kids, and give them sodas and water on hot days.”
Lately she has had surgeries and health concerns, but she keeps delivering papers. Her walking on her routes, combined with other walking during the day, has helped her health — she's lost about 150 pounds.
Keel has an associates in social work and thinks about becoming a drug counselor. She says she went back to school “several years ago,” but delivering the news stays with her.
“I have it down to a science and the money is not that bad,” she said.