“He was always so joyful, and sometimes, I’d see his parents out there, playing a game with him,” said Robinson, 38. “His enthusiasm for basketball was like none I’d ever seen — the sheer joy on his face made me melt.”
Robinson is working long days during the beginning of the holiday delivery rush. But on her day off, Nov. 7, she made a decision: She was going to buy the boy a proper basketball hoop and a new ball.
“I used to play basketball on an old hoop like that, and I know it can be tricky to get the ball through a bent rim,” she said. “It’s hard to judge which angle to shoot from.”
She picked out the best Spalding hoop and basketball she could find at the Target store near her home in Springboro, Ohio. Robinson then spent six hours putting it together and borrowed a friend’s truck to deliver it to the boy’s home, about 25 miles from Cincinnati on the Indiana and Ohio border.
“When I got there, nobody was home, which was perfect,” she said. “I was excited that it would be a surprise.”
Robinson set the new hoop next to the old one, then wrote a note on a FedEx slip and stuck it on the porch.
“Just wanted you and your son to have the best hoop that’ll grow with him, and all his friends!” she wrote. “It’s wonderful that you guys shoot hoops with him.”
Robinson also left instructions explaining how to secure the base with sand to keep the hoop from toppling over. She drew a smiley face and signed it from Aubrey — “Just one of the FedEx drivers for the area.”
That night, when Coledo Wheeler, the boy’s mother, pulled in with her boyfriend, Dan Rooster, after a long day delivering takeout for Grub Hub, she read the note and burst into tears.
“When I saw the hoop, I was blown away,” she said. “I was so humbled that somebody would go out of their way to do such a random act of kindness. I had no idea who Aubrey was, but she made me believe in people again.”
Wheeler’s son, Elijah Maines, 11, was spending that weekend with his father, who lives about an hour away.
“We recently got divorced, and it’s been a hard year for Elijah, and his little brother, Zachary,” said Wheeler, 48. “Basketball means the world to him. There’s nothing he loves more — it’s the thing that makes him the most happy.”
During the pandemic, it has been hard to keep up with the bills, Wheeler said, and she’d been worrying about buying Christmas gifts for her sons, as well as for her two adult children and seven grandkids.
“I couldn’t wait for Elijah to see it when he came home Sunday night,” she said.
Her son’s reaction was the same as hers.
“It made me so happy that I cried,” Elijah said. “I was shocked when I saw it. I thought, ‘Wait, what? Wow.’ ”
Elijah’s old basketball hoop had belonged to the family’s former next-door neighbor, and he played every day he could, even with the bent rim.
“I wanted that kid to know what it’s like to watch a ball roll around the hoop a little bit before it drops in,” Robinson said. “I wanted him to have the best hoop I could find and experience that anticipation.”
Wheeler was so touched by Robinson’s kindness that she posted a thank-you note and some photos of Elijah with the new hoop on her Facebook page the next day.
“There are very much still good people in the world,” Wheeler wrote. “Thank you, Aubrey. You made his day. Can’t wait to see you come thru, I owe you a world of thanks.”
Right away, the story about the kindhearted delivery driver began making the rounds on social media. Robinson declined to be identified publicly until this interview with The Washington Post.
A few days after she’d set up the hoop, Robinson again stopped at the Wheeler home — this time to drop off 180 pounds of sand to stabilize the base.
“I didn’t want it tipping over on him,” said Robinson, who does not have children of her own.
Although nobody was home, “I know that kid was loving that hoop. I know he must have freaked out when he saw it. And that made me smile.”
Robinson had no idea that Wheeler’s Facebook post was being shared all over the Internet, she said.
“I avoid social media and I get all of my news from [Stephen] Colbert,” she said. “I didn’t want any attention for this — I was just inspired by a kid making the most of what he already had. And if I can inspire somebody else to do the same thing for another kid, that’s the biggest thank-you I could have.”
At least one more thank-you is coming from Elijah, who dreams of becoming a professional ballplayer someday.
“She made me feel really good,” Elijah said. “I’d like to see Aubrey come through again so I can give her a thank-you card. She’s awesome.”