Gloria Thompson, who operates a special answering service for the deaf, started out a recent evening with a woman calling to ask her if "The Adams Chronicles" were going to be televised with captions.
The evening ended with a call from a man who asked her to call a California Hospital for him. He had just found out a close friend had been shot in a hold up and he wanted Thompson to reach his friend "to tell him my heart and prayers are with him."
The service Thompson offers is paid for by the St. Barnabas Mission to the Deaf of St. Mark's Church in Washington. Yesterday, a two-year grant from the Washington Episcopal diocese to the St. Barnabas Mission for the service ran out and cannot be renewed, according to the diocese.
That means that some 200 deaf persons who have used the service to call doctors, dentists relatives and baby sitters will have to find alternative means of communicating with the hearing world, according to the Rev. Otto Berg, minister of the St. Barnabas Mission.
Berg said he plans to approach local churches for donations to keep the service - which is offered free - going. If he is unsuccessful, the program will end within the next two weeks.
The special answering service operates through the use of telephone and teletype equipment. A deaf person dials Thompson's number, then plugs the phone receiver into a special device that sends and receives signals through telephone lines. The deaf person then types the message on a teletype machine attached to the device and the information is printed out on a machine in Thompson's home.
There are other teletype services for the deaf in the Washington area, but the St. Barnabas Mission was the only one that operated every day of the week and holidays and one of the few that began as early as 7:30 a.m. and worked until 9 p.m.
"People are guaranteed of finding someone to take their messages between 7:30 and 8:30 and 8 and 9 p.m. on weekdays, and from 2 to 6 p.m. on weekend. But since the machine is right here in my house, I'm really operating a 24-hour service. People can call any time and I'll answer," explained Thompson.
Most calls tend to be routine - setting up a hairdresser's or a dentist's appointment, arranging for furniture to be picked up - Thompson said. She also recalls having had to call the police for a deaf woman one night who called her to report a prowler in the house.
"Apparently, the woman had tried to get through to the Fairfax County police emergency number (connected to a teletype) and couldn't," Thompson said.
"Sometimes the calls are exciting - like when Linda Smith had her baby. Then I had to call up everyone in her family and tell them the news."
Sometimes the job is more difficult, she said, recalling the time she had to inform a deaf woman's family that their father was near death.
"You really get involved with the people. You know where they go for vacation, where they pay their bills. I've gotten hooked on providing this service, hooked on deaf people," she said.
Thompson, 30, a native of Vienna, Austria, has operated the service since last July, when she and her husband bought their house at 5004 Ed Ave., Hyattsville. "The woman who owned the house previously operated the service and had wanted to give it up. It was just too tiring. So I told her to leave the machine here, that I'd take over," she recalled.
The teletype machine itself can cost anywhere from $60 for the stationary kind that looks like a huge, bulky typewriter, to $600 for a battery-operated portable model, according to Berg. The electronic device that actually picks up the signals costs $175, he said.
The $6,000 the Mission received from the diocese over the past two years has gone into repairs for the machine and the salary of the person operating the service, Berg said.
The minister said he is planning to ask local churches for contributions to keep the St. Barnabas service going.
Frances Manson of College Park, one of the persons who depends on the service, said she'd be willing to make a donation to help it continue. "I wish the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. would do all the deaf people a favor and offer this teletype service without any cost," she told a reporter via her teletype machine.
Other teletype services available to deaf persons in the Washington area include:
The Harvest Temple Church of God, Forestville, Md. 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Six to 10 p.m. weekday evenings. 420-4010 (day). 894-7698 (evening).
Community Service Center, 2010 Rhode Island Ave. NE, Washington. 1 to 3 p.m. 447-0523 and 447-0524.
First Baptist Church of Alexandria. 9a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday through Friday 549-6648.
First Baptist Church of Riverdale, Md. 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. 227-7981 or 277-2034 (no answer is not guaranteed at this number).