Nicola Mullin had just started the late afternoon shift as the manager at the Salvation Army thrift store in Saanich, B.C., when one of her staff members came to her.

“We have a problem,” Nicola was told.

A homeless man had marched into the store and set up shop, spreading his meagre possessions around him. He then promptly fell asleep. While he was not violent or verbally abusive, clients and staff alike were forced to work their way around his little encampment.

“It was Halloween, so besides the usual Friday-evening crowd, we had costumed kids milling about,” says Nicola. “It was getting more and more difficult to manoeuvre around him.”

“More Than a Store”
What might have disconcerted most retail managers was just another day at the office for Nicola.

One day, for example, a man wandered in, clothes smelling of smoke. Nicola greeted him and innocently asked if he had been smoking some salmon, as it was that time of the year. With tears in his eyes, the man replied that he'd just lost his house and everything in it in an electrical fire. He hadn't come in asking for a handout, but he was worried that he didn't have enough money to get the clothes he needed.

“The whole staff pulled together and provided him jeans, a warm jacket, socks, underwear and shaving supplies,” she says. “That's what The Salvation Army really stands for: people helping people.”

“We're more than a store,” Nicola asserts. “While we have quotas and sales targets to meet, just like any other retail establishment, a lot of what we do is not in the job description.”

A Man With a Plan
Now, Nicola was faced with the plight of the man who had taken up residence on the shop floor.

“It was cold and raining,” Nicola continues. “He was elderly and wearing multiple layers of clothes that were wet and soggy, but the first thing I noticed about him was that his feet were poking out of his boots.”

Nicola took matters in hand. Approaching him, she gently put her hand on his shoulder and said, “Hi there. My name is Nicola. I'm the manager. Are you OK?”

The old man's eyes snapped open and he gruffly announced, “OK here.”

“No, you're not,” Nicola replied. “Please talk to me.”

To Nicola's surprise, the man followed her outside the store. Though he was a person of few words, she found out his name was Gary. He'd been promised a ride from some friends to a drug-addiction facility where he could get a fresh start, but the lift had never showed up and he'd wandered in to get out of the rain.

“He had a plan to get on with his life but he needed to get from point A to point B, and that hadn't worked out.”

Nicola conferred with her staff. They provided him with a tent and a sleeping bag, a new pair of boots and some food. They then pooled their money and ordered a taxi to take him to his destination.

People Helping People
To the staff 's surprise, the man showed up later that evening.

“My first thought was, Oh my goodness, he never got there. He's in trouble,” Nicola remembers. But, no, he returned to give them their taxi money back! “We certainly didn't want the money, but the man was insistent.”

“No, I pay my own way,” he told them.

Rather than pocketing the money, the staff used the windfall to purchase Halloween treats.

“His gift of giving made about a hundred trick-or-treaters that much happier on Halloween,” says Nicola. “While we never saw the man again, we felt good that we were helping him help himself.”

Nicola blushes when informed that word of her and her staff's actions have spread. “We didn't do what we did for recognition of any sort,” she says. “We just do this because we love helping people. And isn't that what The Salvation Army is all about?”

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