After I wrote on my blog Tuesday evening (February 6) how my homeless friend Ivan Saunderson had been left hobbling on a bum leg after the bicycle he relied on for mobility (not to mention his livlihood as a bottle picker) was stolen, an amazing fundraising effort began Wednesday morning on Twitter to make good the loss.
Spurred on and coordinated by the efforts of several people, including Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith, homeless advocate Jeremy Hunka, and Provincial Health Services authority executive vice president Linda Lupini, and aided through the day by retweets and likes from dozens of engaged Vancouver Twitterati, an amazing $545 was collected by 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.
Once it sunk in that complete strangers had so generously put their money where their hearts were, Ivan’s enthusiasm literally rode away with him and he couldn’t wait to go and buy a bike, if he could find one.
Social media does real good (for a change)
After I picked up the envelope of cash labeled “Ivan Fund” at the offices of the Georgia Straight on West Broadway, I hurried back to the McDonald’s in the 1400 block.
As quickly as possible I hustled an eager but still somewhat dazed Ivan onto an eastbound 9 Broadway bus—envelope of cash tucked securely in one of his pockets—to shoot him down to Sports Junkies, a discount sports equipment store in the 100 block of West Broadway, where there is always a selection of bikes being sold on consignment.
Sports Junkies’ hours of operation, as shown in a Google Knowledge Graph sidebar, had the store open until 7 p.m. but I do not put an excess of trust in Knowledge Graph results.
Before 5 p.m. Ivan was back—astride a sturdy grey Norco Bigfoot mountain bike with big knobby tires, front suspension, and full disc brakes—as good a durable, no-nonsense bike as any homeless binner could want.
The bike had been priced at $399.99 and Ivan picked up a U-lock and cable for another $34.99. Altogether, with taxes added in, the total came to 498.37.
Sports Junkies is just a few block away from the recycling depot where both Ivan and I usually cash in our returnable beverage containers. We can watch the prices of the consignment bikes sitting locked outside the store drop every week that they don’t sell.
Ivan told me that he had first noticed the distinctive grey Bigfoot at the store more than a month ago when it was priced at 700 smackers!
Having your bike stolen doesn’t build character—family does
Ivan William Saunderson is a character with interesting antecedents. He tells me that his mother is a New Zealand Māori and his father was born in Northern Ireland. He explains that his family emigrated to Canada from Auckland, New Zealand, in 1962—the same year that he says he was born but he doesn’t say whether his birth occurred before or after coming to Canada.
He admits to having a great childhood in the working class environs of East Vancouver and grew up to be a tough guy of few words, many deeply held values, and with a love of literature—just like his parents.
Ivan has told me that his dad had a habit of reading books with one hand while doing arm curls with a dumbbell held in his other hand—and apparently still has. When Ivan visited his thriving clan last summer, wherever they reside in B.C., the hug that he received from his elderly father nearly squeezed the breath out of him.
I have to say though, on Wednesday evening, the 55-year-old half Māori, half Irish all East Vancouver tough guy was acting as giddy as a proverbial schoolgirl. He couldn’t stop smiling and patting me on the back. And he repeatedly and volubly expressed a heartfelt desire to thank and hug every single person who had helped him get that beautiful bike.
I wouldn’t have bet money that his feet were quite touching the ground.
Ivan needs better than the usually weak homeless bike security
What brought Ivan back to earth was the necessity to take security more seriously. He admitted that he could get lazy about locking his bikes up (especially when he gets drunk). But he understood that it’s one thing when the bikes are alley-found and Dumpster-dived and quite another when they are brand new and as desirable as a Norco Bigfoot.
Frankly I chided him on not spending every leftover cent on a better and longer-shackled U-Lock and for spending any money on a length of aircraft cable, which can be cut by a patient thief armed only with a pair of nail clippers (if they do not know to just pry open the crimped bands of aluminum securing the loop ends that are masked with plastic sheaths.)
I don’t expect most people to take things to the extremes that I do, with my heavy, 1.8-metre square-link transport chain and rugged mini U-lock and a spare metre of additional chain, a hand-made stainless steel-clad U-lock, and miscellaneous combination and keyed padlocks—”just in case.” This is prudence verging on fetish and besides, I have a bike trailer to carry all that steel.
I encouraged Ivan to record the serial number embossed into the bottom bracket of his new bike and to ride over to the Kitsilano-Fairview Community Policing Centreat 1687 West Broadway and see about having the bike recorded in the free Project 529 online bike registration program that the City of Vancouver has been promoting for a few years.
When I saw Ivan Thursday morning (February 8) he still had the bike and a dazed, happy look about him.
After he came back to McDonald’s from returning the bike he borrowed Wednesday from his friend, Ivan told me that there would be no binning for him Thursday. He was going to just ride—up to UBC—out to Richmond—wherever—just for the pleasure of it.
Ivan is one of Vancouver’s homeless people who do not collect welfare or disability benefits. To pay his daily way in the world he relies on constant bottle-picking and occasional work washing cars.
So I’m really glad that he had a little money left over so he could afford to take the day off and put some “fun” in the Ivan Fund.
Evolution of the “Ivan Fund”—timeline of a tweet idea
Wednesday morning I woke up in my parkade short of funds and determined to skip my usual breakfast at McDonald’s. First I had to make some money by collecting and cashing in a load of returnable beverage containers at a recycling depot. However, when I checked for new email on my phone at 7:30 a.m. I read the following message from Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith:
“Does Ivan want a new bike? Readers have pledged $400 to buy him a new bike.
How would you advise that we proceed from here?”
This changed my plans. I hadn’t seen Ivan since Monday evening. I replied to Charlie that I would go to the McDonald’s in the 1400 block of West Broadway (after all)—to see if Ivan showed up for his usual morning coffee.
I had an unexpected stroke of luck at McDonald’s. Ivan wasn’t there, but one of the regulars named Tom, who follows my blog, was. He wouldn’t hear of me not having breakfast and, with a twinkle that only the very comfortably retired can pull off, he handed me a $50 bill.
Having turned away the wolf at the door I leisurely tucked into breakfast and a side of social media.
There was Charlie Smith’s tweet explaining that, “Some of us are raising money to help Ivan buy a new bike at Sports Junkies after a heartless thief took his,” and if anyone wanted to help, they should email him.
Ivan, of course, wasn’t cooperating. He was late—if he was going to show up at all. Without the bike and with his bum leg, it really was difficult for him to collect and cash in returnables. He might not have made enough money on Tuesday to even buy a Wednesday morning cup of coffee, in which case, I thought, he wouldn’t show up.
But I was wrong. Ivan finally made an appearance toward 10 a.m. He was wearing a spare helmet and riding a thrasher bike borrowed for the day from a friend. I spoke to him and immediately tweeted that he still needed a bike.
My Twitter mentions quickly became a back and forth between people talking about helping Ivan get a bike. At one point, just to keep my hand in, I interjected a tweet to the effect that Ivan’s “schedule” was quite open and to let us know if we needed to go anywhere and “pick up anything”.
Linda Lupini gently replied that we should stand by for details about getting Ivan’s new bike—she had a lot on her plate, work-wise.
All of this was something of an eye opener for Ivan, who was halfway reading over my shoulder.
He does not seem to think much of the Internet in terms of real people and real outcomes but he could see that all these messages represented actual Vancouverites who were focused on his situation and were looking for a way to really help him.
The effort to help Ivan via Twitter benefited from the uptake and retweets of several Twitter “influencers” with many thousands of Twitter followers, such as Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith, who has nearly 13,000 followers, and Vancouver-based musician and all-around legend Bif Naked, who is followed on Twitter by something like 144,000 other Twitter users, including moi.
As the day progressed, I replied to two offers of used bikes—one from Twitter and another from my WordPress blog. In both cases I asked if the bikes were in full working order, gears, brakes, and tires-wise. One of the bikes was apparently good to go and deliverable to the Fairview neighbourhood on Friday. The other bike couldn’t be checked for several days, until its owner was back in town. However, while I was waiting for both replies on the condition of the bikes, the fundraising effort came to amazing fruition.
I tweeted when I had packed Ivan off on a bus to Sports Junkies and again, as soon as Ivan had returned with his new bike, so that everyone involved could see how their efforts had paid off.
Both Ivan and I hope that the contributors and promoters of the Ivan Fund feel at least as good seeing him posing with the new bike that he never imagined getting as he and I feel about him actually—and unbelievably—getting it.
Thank you everyone!