COMMENT: Brendan rides his bike into the sunset - thanks to you!
So often, in news coverage, valuable opinion/editorial writing requires focussing on controversy and those issues which divide us (this has been particularly true in The Source of late), so it’s a real delight when I get to write about something unreservedly wonderful.
On Oct. 9, a reader named Angela Erickson posted this comment to The Source Facebook wall, which I then shared to be sure everyone could see it, “Please help be on the look out for this bike, which was stolen from a young man who has special needs. He has a brain injury and is visually impaired. He finally learned how to ride a two-wheeled bike, and this bike was very special to him. It folds up. And he thought it was the coolest thing. Please help him get his bike back. Thank you.”
(The post was shared 259 times and garnered 46 comments. 13,544 people ultimately saw it, according to Facebook.)
I sat there stewing after I posted it, though – I found the whole thing upsetting, so I posted this, “My readers, like myself, are very distressed by the theft of a local special needs kid’s bike. I don’t have a storefront to collect donations, but perhaps there’s another local business who’d be willing to serve that office? Let’s get this kid a new bike!”
Bear in mind, this was all happening during the dinner hour on a Wednesday evening, when most businesses aren’t even open.
The response was lightning fast and unlike anything I’d ever imagined possible – McDonald’s immediately committed to putting out collection containers the following morning at 8:30 a.m. – followed shortly thereafter by Boston Pizza, Peak Physique, OK Tire, Hairlines and Cut ‘N Loose hair salons, Back in Balance Family Chiropractic and Wellness Center, M&M Meat Shops, Lamont Renos and Repair, Century 21, Johnny’s in Robson, New Life Assembly and the Selkirk Saints (I hope I didn’t miss anyone) – and many of these companies/organizations committed to cash donations as well.
Then, all–of–a-sudden, individual readers were jumping in, offering $50 here, $100 there – had we needed $2,000 or even more for a new bike, I think we would have raised it in an matter of hours.
I’ve really never seen anything like it – even people from other cities who saw the post were asking how they could get money here to Castlegar.
A lot of this happened on The Source Facebook page – but what anyone following that didn’t get to see were the private messages I was receiving behind the scenes. Offers of help and support were coming in in droves, and fully three people were scrambling to find a retailer that sold bikes like the one stolen from 11-year-old Brendan Monson, because they wanted to replace it outright.
As it happens, a sweetheart named Steve Ross beat them to the punch and did just that, making the collection of donations unnecessary – but by that time, we’d already physically gathered over $100, which Brendan donated to the Castlegar Harvest Food Bank’s emergency fund (after I used Facebook to make sure that was okay with donours).
To give you a little back story on this young man, he’s globally delayed. He’s 11 years old but functions at about the level of a five- or six-year-old due to brain damage caused when he was shaken as a baby. The shaking also caused a detached retina, leaving him with limited vision. He had to use a special (and ever-so-expensive) three-wheeled bike until only recently (that bike was given to him by the worthy Cops For Kids program, and was donated back to them when he no longer needed it). Learning to ride a normal, two-wheeled bike was a HUGE deal for him, and losing it was very painful for him.
The new bike not only means the world to him, but also to his mom, who has had to watch him struggle.
“I want to thank each and every one of you – this is such an amazing community,” she said. “I just can’t believe it.”
I got to meet Brendan, his mom, and some of his family members last week when we all gathered at the museum to hand over the donations to Deb McIntosh (city councillor, museum manager, and food bank coordinator), and I got to see him on his bike, and it was a shining moment. I took the attached photo, too, so you guys can share in that moment and, I hope, feel real joy at being a part of creating it.
I think we all got a warm, fuzzy feeling from helping out a deserving kid – but I also wanted you to know on a personal level, between you and me, that you helped me, too.
There are so many horrifying/stressful/disappointing/sad moments this job has brought me that I can’t erase from my mind – and they’re totally balanced by those couple of hours I spent sitting in front of the computer, watching people I didn’t know fall all over themselves to help a kid they didn’t even know with something that wasn’t a basic human need, for no reason other than that they cared, and his feelings matter.
My son must have thought I’d gone completely barmy when he came into my office and saw me riveted to the monitor, grinning my fool head off while tears rolled down my face.
Yes, The Source will continue bringing up the controversial issues and telling the hard stories and likely upsetting people along the way, because that’s often how a community moves forward and gets things done.
But before we do, I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for those few hours, when you proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that there’s less that divides us than there is that brings us together, and that the word “community” means so much more than just a place to live.
I love Castlegar.