After 12 years living on the streets, little surprises Paul Lenny anymore. Amanda and Trevor Wilhauk did.
“I went from wondering, ‘What am I going to be doing?’ Now, I’m not so worried about myself, anymore,” Lenny said after the Wilhauks led a push to raise thousands of dollars for the homeless in Spruce Grove.
Last Wednesday, Lenny was behind the Wilhauk’s Beef Jerky store in in the bedroom community west of Edmonton. He was shaking a pebble out of his shoe and taking some bottles that were left in the alley.
Inside, Amanda Wilhauk saw Lenny through the window.
“I didn’t know. I just opened up the door. I said, ‘Hey, guy,'” Amanda Wilhauk said.
At first, Lenny was surprised. He worried Wilhauk wanted to keep the bottles.
“I’m like oh no,” he said. “I’m putting my shoe back on and I thought okay, I’m going to leave.”
But Wilhauk invited him in, gave him $40 and promised him more bottles the next day, once the bottle depot opened.
The next day, Lenny returned to the shop.
“He sat in the front of the store with Trevor for half an hour, just happy to have someone to chat with, inside a warm room. He said that he ate supper at Boston Pizza the night before with the $40 and was so grateful to have had a warm meal.”
The couple asked Paul what he needed, to which he replied: maybe some boots? The Wilhauks put together a care package for him, including some food from the store and donated by staff.
Then she posted the story to Facebook.
“I am aware that there is homelessness in Spruce Grove, Stony Plain and Parkland County, but suddenly, this was very real,” she wrote on the Wilhauk Beef Jerky Facebook page on March 9.
“Where was he going to take this bag of empties tonight? The bottle depot is clearly closed this late in the evening. What is he going to eat tonight? I have a full fridge at home; he has a duffel bag.
“It’s freezing outside,” she continued. “Where was he going to sleep tonight? I was headed home to my family – a warm home and a comfy bed.”
“We would like to do more for Paul and the other 45-60 homeless people currently living in our area,” Wilhauk wrote.
“If you would like to help too, then Wilhauk Beef Jerky Ltd. (Spruce Grove location) will match your donations.
“For the next week, we will accept cash and gift card donations that will go directly to Paul and the other people in our city without a home,” the March 9 message reads.
Since then, the donations have poured in. Two boxes set up in their store are filled with cash and gift cards. People from as far away as India have phoned asking how they can make donations.
Wilhauk estimates as of Tuesday afternoon, she has received about $5,000 in donations. She and Trevor will match those. Some of the money will go to Lenny. The rest will be split between four organizations that help the homeless in Spruce Grove.
On Tuesday, one of those groups was serving a lunch to those who needed one.
Auggie’s Cafe relies on donations to provide the weekly meal. Dianne Brown volunteers there and is thankful to this promised money but she’s not surprised. She often sees the generosity of those in her community.
“Deep down inside of who I am, I believe people really do care about each other,” Brown said.
“They just need to be given a venue in order to express it.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Lenny returned to Wilhauk Beef Jerky to thank the Wilhauks. He didn’t know about how his story spurred so much giving.
“After finding that out, I feel proud of people realizing they can help out other people,” he said.
The act certainly inspired him. Lenny said he just moved to Spruce Grove. He’s staying with his sister now. With this show of support, “I’m going to get myself some help and get myself on my feet. I’m going to make Spruce Grove my home.”