After a random act of vandalism shook a small town, it took an act of kindness from a stranger to restore their spirits.
McCarthy, Alaska is a little village in the Wrangell Mountains, about 300 miles from Anchorage, with a population of less than 300 people in the summer and just about 30 in the off-season.
But the isolated community finds satisfaction in their self-reliance, with a small volunteer fire department—and a single ambulance to call their own.
“The ambulance is our own sense of independence we took pride in,” Jacob Shultz, manager of the nonprofit McCarthy EMS, told the Anchorage Daily News. “You have to be very self-sustaining.”
He said the ambulance served as a “mini clinic” for the community, and was used to give people shelter while waiting for planes at the airstrip.
It meant a lot to the residents—and they were crushed when they got some upsetting news last summer.
The ambulance was destroyed by an act of vandalism.
Late one night Shultz discovered that the wiring had been stripped out of the vehicle’s center switch panel, rendering it unusable and difficult to repair.
“It was a complete mess … took the wind out of our sails,” Schultz said.
The community has never discovered who did it, and the loss has wounded their spirits.
“We all were, I think, really bummed last summer,” McCarthy resident Tamara Harper said. “It’s like, who vandalizes an ambulance? It was just this low point for me and a lot of people.”
But one person who was affected by the news wasn’t even a resident of the town.
Jonathan Dobbs, from Boulder Junction, Wisconsin, discovered McCarthy during his first trip in 2014 in which he fell in love with the town. Last fall, the retiree returned to the town with his girlfriend on a trip.
That’s when he learned about their ambulance troubles. He saw a flyer outside a bar looking for any tips about the crime.
Even after returning home, the thought of the crime stayed with him.
“That bothered me for a very long time,” Dobbs said.
However, he recently discovered a way he could help McCarthy. He heard that the town of Plum Lake, about 14 miles from him, was selling an ambulance.
So Dobbs decided to do something incredible:
He bought the ambulance to give to the town!
He paid $8,000 for the vehicle, not including the expenses of driving it all the way to Alaska—a plan that surprised the seller.
“I said, ‘I want to drive it to Alaska,'” Dobbs said. “He thought I was absolutely crazy.”
Crazy or not, Dobbs and a friend drove the ambulance—with a new McCarthy EMS logo on it—to the small town.
“A lot of people think that it’s a little crazy sometimes for doing things like this,” Dobbs said. “But if I can do it, I’ll do it, and I’ll do it as long as I possibly can.”
The act of kindness stunned the McCarthy residents and lifted their spirits.
“This is just so out of the blue and such a surprise, and I think it’s hopefully going to re-energize our community,” Harper told Anchorage Daily News.
While Dobbs only paid a brief visit to the town, they honored him with a potluck and a cake.
“That he was just a visitor here last year and apparently and just found the community to be really welcoming … that he specifically wanted to give us something, is a good feeling,” she said.
McCarthy still plans on restoring their old ambulance somehow, but for now they have some of their town pride back, thanks to a considerate outsider.