One small gesture reveals one big heart

An Alberni man who was once homeless has recently been fed, clothed and given shelter after a small random act of kindness quickly spread

Michelle Gard

Michelle Gard

A Port Alberni man who was once  homeless has recently been fed, clothed and given shelter after one small random act of kindness quickly spread.

Now Steve Rickard hopes the generosity of the community continues to be passed on to others who need a helping hand, especially with the cold and wet weather.

Michelle Gard noticed Rickard sitting outside Buy-Low Foods last month trying to take shelter from a rain storm. She said something about his smile struck her and she felt compelled to do something, so she bought him something to eat.

Although it was lunchtime, he said he would save it for later because it would be his only dinner in three or four days.

“The weather was horrendous,” Gard said.

“The rain was pounding and the wind blowing and he was out in it. He smiled at me and that was all it took.”

“I thought she was such a kind-hearted person,” Rickard said.

“I don’t pan-handle. Being poor, I hit the streets and pick up empties. That’s what I do for a living.”

“That’s the thing, he didn’t ask for a thing that day,” Gard said.

Soon after, Gard posted the experience on her Facebook page and shared it to a popular Port Alberni-based page, AV Chatter Box. Before long, others wanted to help out and an outpouring of support came in, including gifts of food and clothing.

Rickard has been stopped on the street by people offering cash and gift cards for local restaurants.

Rickard’s story is a familiar one among those on the streets.

Homeless for four years, he used to work in one of the largest warehouses in Western Canada. He temporarily moved to Chilliwack to avoid an abusive relationship and lived under a bridge for three years with his friend, Coreena.

“We had no tent, it was warm and we were happy,” he said. “We hardly went to the shelter.”

Rickard and Coreena, who was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Nitinaht and lost her mother when she was two years old, came to Port Alberni in May to try to find her mother’s gravesite.

The two were unable to secure a room in the Port Alberni Shelter, so they stayed for two weeks at the Bluebird Motel under government funding.

“After that, Coreena lost faith and gave up the search, but I am still advocating for her,” Rickard said. “I came here by accident but it is now an ongoing search. She is in rehab and wants to come back here when she gets out on Dec. 11.”

He was able to stay in the shelter for the next 30 days but has been on the streets since June 14. For the past three weeks he has been sleeping in the covered box at the Stirling Park dog park, but after his story came out, Denis Sauve was able to secure a place for him at the shelter.

“Ever since I have been in town, I knew the lumber industry is down and fishing is down, but the greatest resource this town has is its people,” Rickard said.

“I am well-equipped now for winter thanks to Michelle and all the others. I can’t use it all so I want other donations to go to The Attic or the shelter.”

Gard said she and Rickard want to continue to help those in need in the community.

“Now we have to figure out what we can do together to pay it forward,” she said.

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