Last month, Kate McClure from New Jersey was on her way to Philadelphia—and ran out of gas late at night on Interstate 95.
She had been cutting it close, but thought she’d just barely make it. She was wrong.
“My heart was beating out of my chest,” McClure said.
She told the Philadelphia Inquirer,“I didn’t know what the heck to do.”
There was no choice but to pull over, and thankfully made it to a nearby gas station. Then things went from bad to worse as she couldn’t afford to buy gas. She called her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, who said he would come get her.
So McClure waited at the gas station, near Johnny, a homeless man who spends much of his time near that exit ramp.
“He saw me pull over and knew something was wrong,” McClure wrote. Then he told her sit tight and lock up her car, and disappeared.
“A few minutes later, he comes back with a red gas can,” she wrote. “Using his last 20 dollars to make sure I could get home safe.”
Johnny didn’t ask McClure for a single thing, but touched to her core, McClure resolved to repay him. She made a call to D’Amico, telling him she was fine now, and recounting the moving story.
The next few days, McClure made an effort to stop by Johnny’s spot often. First she repaid him for the gas, then brought him a jacket, some gloves, a hat, warm socks, and a few dollars each time she stopped by.
One day, she stopped by with another bag for him, containing cereal bars. He thanked her, as usual, but the first thing out of his mouth was “Do you want one?” Another time, she brought him a case of water, and his first thought was to share it with two other homeless men he was friends with and looked out for.
McClure felt it wasn’t enough.
Through conversations, they learned that Johnny Bobbitt was originally from North Carolina, and had been an ammunition technician in the Marines. They found his old Facebook page, where he chronicled a romantic relationship to a breakup, and his training to become a paramedic as he aspired to be a flight nurse.
But with bad luck and then some bad decisions, Johnny got involved with drugs, which led to financial problems, and then a criminal record.
A friend of his told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Johnny had a “good heart” and was a talented and smart paramedic, but his life took an unfortunate turn. Johnny told D’Amico he had no one to blame but his own decisions.
“He is such a great guy, and talking to him each time I see him makes me want to help him more and more,” McClure wrote.
McClure wanted to share his story. She felt that if others could see what a selfless and caring person Johnny was, they would want to help him get back on his feet as well.
She started a GoFundMe page, hoping to raise $10,000 that Johnny could then use to rent an apartment and purchase some necessities.
“He’s a thousand miles from home with nothing, nobody. Things probably snowballed to where he’s living under a bridge,” D’Amico said.
McClure and D’Amico were right—the story resonated with many, and donations started pouring in from strangers. It was just $5 here, $20 there.
But in less than two weeks, they have now raised over $300,000.
Well over the initial goal, the three of them were just blown away by the explosion of interest and kindness from complete strangers. And even after they tried to close off the donations—having surpassed $200,000—people wrote in, adding that they wanted to help.
“He can’t wait to thank all of you and wishes he could individually if possible. Mark and I couldn’t begin to express how grateful we are that you guys made this little fantasy a reality!!” McClure wrote.
And it won’t all go to helping one person either.
“The second we told Johnny about this, his first thought was to pay it forward,” McClure wrote.
Over 10,000 people had donated to the fundraiser, and many left comments as to why they were moved to do so.
“The reason Johnny has touched so many people is because he did not ask for anything, he did not expect anything in return when he helped a woman using his last $20,” Kay Olewnik wrote. ” Thank you Kate and Johnny for giving us HOPE in OTHERS!”
Steve Johnson wrote: “People look for real life stories that deserve attention/a donation during the holidays. It may seem like a lot brother, or even too much, but people like you are who we CHOOSE to help. Do good for yourself with it.”
For thousands, it truly was the best Thanksgiving story.