What started as a sad commentary on the lack of one person's community spirit has been transformed into a powerful demonstration of people's willingness to help others — thanks to the online commenters of the Daily News.
Kamloops resident Malcom Garby wrote a letter to the editor which was published on Sept. 25. He is a paraplegic who lost his remote control airplane in a mislaunch at Singh Bowl earlier that month. Being confined to a wheelchair, he was unable to retrieve the plane himself and had to leave and call for help to retrieve it. By the time he came back, someone had picked the plane up. After posting a sign asking for its return, he got a phone call, but the person was more interested in the reward than helping Garby and never returned the plane.
"I just want to 'thank' the woman who, by the way, blocked her number so I could not go and pick it up," Garby wrote. "Again, thanks for the theft and thanks for keeping your word. The one thing that makes me feel free since I cannot run, or ride a bike."
The letter was also posted to the Daily News's website, where online commenters debate and discuss the issues they read about. The debate is often contentious and heated, but in this case commenters banded together and made a unique offer — to raise the funds to replace Garby's plane, valued at approximately $200.
Commenter "Ben Dover" (his screen name) started the ball rolling, offering $200 to Garby to replace the plane and asking the Daily News staff to help put him in contact with Garby. Other commenters followed suit, and Daily News publisher Tim Shoults reached out to Garby and asked if he would be willing to let the Daily News take donations on his behalf to replace the plane.
Garby accepted gratefully, and Shoults placed the notice in a comment under Garby's letter. The next day, the donations started rolling in, with Ben Dover walking through the door with two crisp $100 bills. In total, six commenters contributed a total of $290 in cash, all of them using only their screen names or "anonymous" to identify themselves to the Daily News front desk. Users "Rex" and "breathingstars" contributed along with Ben Dover.
Shoults contacted Garby with the good news, who went online to purchase the replacement plane (local merchants didn't carry the right model, for which Garby had extra batteries and equipment on hand).
The plane arrived in Kamloops on Tuesday and on Wednesday Shoults met Garby at the Canada Post outlet in Brocklehurst Shopping Centre with the commenters' cash in hand.
After taxes and delivery, the replacement cost $260.52, leaving $29.48.
"Since the Daily News does not have specific contact information for the commenters, we are hoping those who contributed will allow us to donate the remaining amount to the Daily News's Christmas Cheer Fund, our annual charity drive which raises funds for up to five different local charities each year," said Shoults.
Last year readers contributed more than $80,000 to the Cheer Fund.
"They can let us know in the comments on this story and if they agree, we will make the donation on behalf of the commenters of the Daily News," said Shoults.
The generosity of the online commenters left both Garby and Shoults amazed.
"This is so awesome," said Garby. "All I wanted was for the person to see it or someone they spoke to about it and return it . . . this though has reminded me of just how small communities band together."
"I'm overwhelmed," said Shoults. "Our comments section has been compared to the Wild West by some people because it can be a place for heated and sometimes very unfriendly discussion. But this shows another side of it altogether.
"Our online community is just that — a community — and they have demonstrated just how engaged they are and how they can make a difference in real life as well as online."