Victoria woman reaches out to help retiree (w/video)
Feb. 15, 2014 at 10:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 16, 2014 at 8:17 p.m.
The impact of metal on metal startled Rhonda Griffin from her work.
From outside her office window at the corner of Bridge and North streets, she watched as Hershel Hill crawled out the passenger-side door of his wrecked vehicle and into the cold rain.
Gusts up to 22 mph blew him to-and-fro.
Griffin, 54, walked outside, trying to get him out of the wind and rain.
She knew he needed help - his car appeared to be totaled, and he might have needed medical attention. She didn't know the help she would offer could change his life forever.
A devout Catholic, a verse from the book of Matthew filled her thoughts: "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
Griffin gave Hill a ride home.
"When we opened the door, there was no furniture in his apartment," Griffin said. "All he had was a bed - a foam mattress on six storage bins. He had one blanket."
Two pairs of white, size 10 wide Velcro sneakers sat in a neat row next to a walker, a plastic chair and two vacuums in his barren living room.
The pantry was empty, the walls were clear, and the floor sparkled as if it had been freshly mopped.
She started a Facebook campaign to raise money and collect furnishings for Hill.
Saturday afternoon, she and a group of family, friends and co-workers delivered a new bed, a dining table, chairs and enough groceries to stock the kitchen along with a collection that would keep him housed for months and pay the deductible on his car insurance.
Griffin found out the day of the wreck that Hill had retired from the railroad and never married or had children.
"He said he couldn't afford it," Griffin said.
She thought about her grandmother, who had passed away only a week before, and whether anyone would help her if she were in a wreck.
"I didn't know that he didn't have a family; I just knew it was rainy and cold," she said.
She wondered whether his decline of any help was the dignity bred from working for the railroad.
"He has so little, and he was not asking for any help," she said. "He did not ever say, 'Would you help me?' He wanted to walk on his own. He didn't want to be a burden."
They arrived at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at his apartment at Sage Creek, the time Griffin said she and Hill agreed upon.
However, he was nowhere to be found. And he could not be reached for comment.
The apartment manager let them in and kept watch as they brought in furniture and bags of groceries, bedding and gift cards.
Griffin's husband, John Sheffel, 56, collected donations at his office for the big day.
"It makes you feel good because this man has worked all his life; he's not on welfare; he's not subsidized; he's living off his pension," Sheffel said. "It makes you feel good to help somebody who doesn't have their hand out."
As her team of volunteers helped move furniture into his one-bedroom apartment, Griffin said she was most proud of the outpouring of love.
"He's not a charity case, and he's not asking for it," Griffin said. "Because of that, it's stood out above everything else."