Residents in an Illinois town offered assistance to a homeless veteran after a passerby drew attention to him on social media. The community's donations helped the veteran escape dangerously cold weather and be on his way to reuniting with a friend in New York.
On Dec. 27, Michelle Noyes and her family were driving through Troy, Illinois, when she spotted a man bundled up in a sleeping bag near the road. She originally though the man was an inanimate trash bag and was concerned he was out in the record-breaking cold weather, the Belleville News-Democrat reports.
Noyes and her family purchased a hot drink for the homeless man and learned that he was a U.S. Marine veteran named William Bozman.
"It made me feel awful, thinking about someone out in the cold like that," Noyes recalled. "His face was so, so red from the cold ... when he took his head out of the sleeping bag, I could see how cold and miserable he was."
Noyes had been trying to hitchhike his way from California to New York to reunite with a friend who could offer him a place to stay. His cross-country journey had hit a snag in Troy and he told Noyes "he didn't think he'd make it more than a few weeks."
Noyes shared Bozman's story in a local Facebook group, where the veteran's plight drew the attention of the local charity called Making a Difference. The group tapped Troy residents to help and immediately drew generous donations.
"It was really beautiful," said Johanna Hartlein, a volunteer for Making a Difference. "Not one person said, 'Is he black or white?' or 'He should get a job' or 'He's probably on drugs.' No one asked one question of judgment; people just came together to help a stranger who needed it."
Members of the community donated blankets, outerwear and boots for Bozman and raised over $500 to help him pay for the rest of his trip to New York.
"In the span of a few hours, [Bozman] went from freezing and hungry to full and happy and with a bus ticket and a few hundred bucks in his pocket," said Tony Hilker, the charity's founder.
Only eight hours after Bozman was discovered on the sidewalk by Noyes, he was ready to finish his cross-country trip and departing on a bus.
"As we parted ways, [Bozman] took off his boots to put on another pair that someone had blessed him with today and he asked that they go to someone in need," Making a Difference wrote on its official Facebook page.
"William will hold a special place in all of our hearts and he promised to call when he makes it home..."
Hilker said he was satisfied with how his group was able to drastically improve Bozman's position in the space of a few hours.
"It makes me feel really good," Hilker told KMOV. "I always tell people it feels like I get the reward because I get all the hugs and the smiles and I get to see the end result of situations like this. There were literally hundreds of people in Troy helping out he's going to be home tonight because of it."