It was February 2018, and I was running super late for an important pitch meeting for a big account. The kids were a challenge that morning and I was stressed and anxious about closing the deal. I parked in the underground lot at the ScotiaBank Theatre and hightailed it up the stairs to the street for the short walk into the office. As I looked up the street to the intersection of Peter and Richmond, I saw a disheveled man with an oversized jacket standing at the corner. He had no shoes on. Not even a pair of socks. It was damn cold and there was snow on the ground.
At that moment, I thought, “Oh no. I don’t have time for this.”
It didn’t make sense to cross the street, so I put my head down and started reciting some notes from the presentation I was about to give. When I got to the intersection and looked up, I was annoyed to see the orange hand on the traffic light, which stopped me in my tracks only a few feet away from the man.
My stomach dropped when the guy spoke to me.
In a soft voice he said: “Excuse me, do you by any chance know where the closest grocery store is?”
I was thrown off. I think it was the politeness in his voice. Or his genuine appeal for a simple piece of information. I didn’t expect that. I made eye contact and found no ulterior motive in his expression.
When I spoke, I made sure not to look down at his feet, “Oh yeah, ummm, there’s an Express grocery place just around the corner and there’s a Loblaws a block or two away on Queen street”. I pointed in the direction.
He responded, “Oh great, thanks. Have a good one.” He ran across the street, on bare feet, before the light turned, opting for the Loblaws.
I yelled back, “You too.”
My light turned and I slowly started on my way. I’ll admit it, for a fraction of a second after the encounter, I actually felt good for helping a stranger with directions. Then, a wave of shame came over me. WTF was wrong with me? I couldn’t muster the courage to say, “Hey, man, why no shoes? Are you okay?” Or, “Do you need a hand?”
Instead, I said, “You too!”
I don’t remember how the pitch went that day, but it was probably fine. I have a laser-like focus for getting results at work. It’s always served me well. I’ve experienced a lot of success professionally.
But something happened that day. I lost my desire for the work I was doing. I realized I was living a very selfish, emotionally guarded life. I was unable to connect with people. I had lost my empathy and my willingness to help someone in need.
It took another 18 months after that encounter to figure out how I was going to make it up to that guy with no shoes. How was I going to use my entrepreneurial skills and love for technology to help wake up other professionals on auto-pilot, conscious of their guarded generosity?
I built Troop as a tool for people to discover tangible needs in their neighbourhood – because the shoeless man isn’t always standing right in front of your face. I believe that people want to wake up and start connecting with other people. This pandemic has shown us that compassion is real and thriving as neighbours come out in droves to offer support to one another.
I can’t go back to that February day and buy the shoes he needed, but I can take the impact of that moment, and my years of business and tech experience, to build something to help ensure that basic needs don’t go unmet for other people.
Today marks the launch of Troop Local Impact Plans for Businesses. In the coming months and years, the full force of this pandemic will show its face through a strain on our social services, increased unemployment and a widening income gap. Neighbourhoods will change and needs will grow. Governments alone can’t fix this. To face this social deficit, it will take innovative ways of engaging businesses and neighbours.
Because of that disheveled man with an oversized jacket and no shoes, Troop exists to take on that challenge.