iStock/Thinkstock(DETROIT) — Evan Leedy, a 19-year-old Detroit college student, was on Facebook Sunday morning when he read a story about James Robertson, a 56-year-old factory worker who walks 21 miles each day to and from his job in Rochester Hills, Michigan.
“What he walks is like me walking to work every day and I honestly couldn’t believe that,” Leedy told ABC News. “I thought to myself, ‘What would I do if my car broke down?,’ and I thought, ‘I have my parents and I have money to get an Uber.’”
“This guy doesn’t have that and he didn’t quit,” Leedy said.
After reading the Detroit Free Press story on Robertson, Leedy saw in the comments that people were looking for a way to help so he started a GoFundMe page for Robertson, a complete stranger to him, within minutes of finishing the story.
“I initially set the goal for $5,000 just to get him something, bus fares and taxi rides,” Leedy said. “I went to go get ready and an hour later we had $2,000 donated already.”
“I bumped it up to $10,000 and within four hours we had over $10,000,” he said. “I bumped it up again and by the end of the day we had over $30,000 and now it’s up to over $50,000.”
Leedy says he received a call from the corporate offices of Honda offering to donate a car, and a local Chevrolet dealership, Rodgers Chevrolet, has also already offered to give Robertson a car.
“We are in a position that we can help and we just want to pay it forward,” Angela Osborne, a customer service specialist at Rodgers, told ABC News. “His story really struck home.”
All the attention and donations are coming as a shock to Robertson, according to his friend and sometimes driver, Blake Pollock.
Pollock, a vice president of wealth management at UBS, started seeing Robertson walking on his daily commute a few years ago. When Robertson cut through the parking lot of Pollock’s office building one day two years ago, the banker stopped him.
Pollock told ABC News he learned that Robertson walked most of his 20-plus mile commute daily, leaving his home in Detroit early each morning to get to work at a $10.55 per hour factory job in time for his 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift.
Robertson then does the reverse commute on the way home, having to walk even further because the bus lines on his route do not run at night, according to Pollock.
“I said, ‘Next time I see you I’ll give you a ride,’” Pollock recalled. “A few months later I saw him literally standing on top of a snow bank and gave him a ride.”
Pollock estimates he has given Robertson close to 100 rides in the years since, even leaving his home at night to make sure Robertson gets home safely.
“I’m sitting in my warm house and I’m thinking this guy has five more miles to walk,” Pollock said.
Pollock has also over the years taken friends who could not believe Robertson’s story along with him on rides to show that Robertson does indeed make that commute daily. Most amazing to Pollock is that Robertson, who could not be reached on Monday by ABC News, “thinks nothing of it.”
“He’s said, ‘I can’t imagine people who don’t work. I can’t imagine not doing that,’” Pollock said. “Nothing gets him down. If it’s rainy, if it’s cold, he just always says, ‘Hi Mr. Blake.’”
“I get to sit in the car and have that inspiration right next to me,” he said of Robertson, who began walking to work a decade ago when his then-car broke down.
Now, Pollock is leading the charge to make sure that Robertson — whom Pollock says is not aware of the extent of the outpouring of support — benefits from the donations made in his name. Part of that effort includes establishing a group of community leaders and professionals who can help advise Robertson on the influx of money.
“We want to make sure that all of the wonderful contributions go to truly benefit James and not get wasted on other things or go to people who want to leech off of him,” Pollock said of Robertson, whom he says lives with his girlfriend and her family in a home she inherited from her mother.
“He deserves to feel good and he deserves to not walk 20 plus miles to work,” Pollock said. “We don’t want to change his life. We want to enhance his life.”
Leedy, who started the fundraising campaign, plans to meet Robertson, along with Pollock, for the first time in Detroit Monday evening.
“My vision now is to really help in any way,” said Leedy, who noted that GoFundMe officials have already contacted him with offers to help make sure 100 percent of the donations go directly to Robertson. “This could really change his life.”
“I want to talk to James first and know what his needs are,” Leedy said. “It’s not my money or my choice. I’m just facilitating the whole thing.”
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