Kate McClure didn’t expect to run out of gas on her drive to Philadelphia last month.
And she definitely didn’t expect that her misfortune would give her the opportunity to change someone else’s life.
Pulled over on the side of I-95, McClure, 27, was approached by a homeless man named Johnny. She was apprehensive at first, but Johnny told her to get back into her car and to lock the doors while he walked to get her help. He went to a nearby gas station, used his last $20 fill a can and brought it back to fill up her car.
Grateful, but without a dollar to repay him, McClure promised she would come back with something.
In the weeks since, she’s returned to the spot along I-95 where Johnny stays with cash, snacks and Wawa gift cards. Each time she’s stopped by with her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, they’ve learned a bit more about Johnny’s story, and become humbled by his gratitude.
Eventually, the Florence Township couple knew they had to do something more.
“I would say, ‘I keep thinking about that guy,’” D’Amico said. And McClure was thinking about Johnny, too.
So they launched a GoFundMe campaign, putting an ambitious $10,000 goal and hoping to rein in a few hundred dollars to book Johnny a motel for a few nights where he could clean up, and start to get back on his feet.
As of Thursday, November 23, 2017, the campaign had garnered more than $250,000 in donations, up from $34,000 on Wednesday when this story was originally published.
“It just blew up,” McClure said earlier this week, noting that donors have come forward with $5, $10 or even several hundred after she’s shared the GoFundMe to various Facebook groups.
Johnny, who’s 34, told McClure and D’Amico he has been homeless for about a year. He said he was previously a certified paramedic, and also served in the Marine Corps.
After moving around the country for a time, he came to Philadelphia a year ago with a job lined up and some money to buy a truck. But soon after the job fell through, leaving Johnny surviving off meager savings.
Later, he lost his paperwork, rendering him unable to work. One night on the streets turned into a week, and ultimately a year of homelessness.
Learning his story, and sifting through his old Facebook photos, McClure and D’Amico said they were shocked to see how quickly Johnny’s life had changed from that of a working man who vacationed on the beach to one living off the streets of Philadelphia.