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The kindness of strangers

A homeless Medford man says the kindness of strangers has surprised and touched him so deeply he’s committed to helping others when he’s able.

Tim Grillo, father of two who recently found himself without a car or a room to rent, was one of dozens of homeless people who were given a motel room on a cold, snowy night Feb. 26, thanks to a community effort spearheaded by Debbie Saxbury of Central Point and Melissa Mayne of the Compassion Highway Project. A Medford couple donated 45 rooms — an entire motel.

As donations continued to pour in, one night grew into nearly a week and a donated 2010 Suzuki for Grillo.

“Debbie called and was like, ‘I got you a car. For free.’ I didn’t even know what to say,” Grillo recalls.

“Now it’s like I don’t even have a choice. I’ve gotta pay it back — pay it forward — somehow. This lady is a guardian angel and gave me a whole new perspective about helping people. I just I don’t get it. I’ve driven by people and given them some little thing but never given anyone the kind of thought that Debbie did me. I can’t imagine somebody bending over backwards just to help someone you don’t even know.”

Grillo scrolled Thursday through an email app on his phone showing some three dozen job applications he submitted this week. Currently working an on-call position at a local funeral home, Grillo says his hours have been limited.

Paying child support for his two kids, he says, means he can only afford to rent a room versus an apartment.

“If it comes down to having food in their bellies and taking care of my responsibilities or having a roof, I was doing what I had to do,” he says.

“But, in the last week-and-a-half, I got called in twice. That’s 80 bucks. I’m busting my ass and I won’t give up, because I have my kids to think about, but it’s so much harder than people think it is. I know I thought differently before it happened to me.”

Grillo, 30, grew up in two dozen foster homes, some deemed abusive, after losing both parents at a young age. When a room he planned to rent fell through, he was ready to pitch a tent in the freezing cold. That’s when a friend connected him with Saxbury and Mayne.

“First I heard from Debbie, and she wanted to find out more about me. Then Melissa, from Compassion Highway Project, called me and said, ‘Come to the hotel, I’m going to get you a room,’” he says.

“I was like, ‘Wait, what — I don’t even know who you are right now. I thought it was some kind of joke.

“Then Debbie called and said, ‘What room are you in? I’m bringing you $100 that somebody donated.’ And she said, ‘And by the way, someone added two more nights.’”

Saxbury says she was touched by Grillo’s willingness to work hard to better himself and care for his children.

“I have never been so impressed with a young man as I am with him,” Saxbury posted on her Facebook page. “He just has fallen on hard times. He has a good resume, smart and willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead. When I asked him if he had family, he said, I have none, I grew up in foster care my entire life.’ It literally broke my heart.”

Saxbury says she was trying to find someone to help with repairs for Grillo’s seized-up Dodge Durango or a down payment for a used car when an anonymous donor offered the Suzuki.

“This was so much more than I expected, and I’m so proud of our community. He told me, ‘If I can get a car, at least I can sleep in the car and keep doing what I need to do.’”

Asked what would better his situation, Grillo says, besides finding a full-time job, he could only suggest following Saxbury’s lead.

“I have a room and a car. I feel like I have hope that I can figure it out now,” he says.

“I don’t need anything else. If someone wanted to help, I would tell them to give it to Debbie and to Compassion Highway so they can help someone else. There are a lot of people who need help out there, and I’ve learned that sometimes there’s more to someone’s story than you might know about.”

Reach Mayne with Compassion Highway Project at 541-646-8004 or by email at compassionhighwayproject@gmail.com.

Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Tim Grillo, a father of two who received unexpected help from local people during a recent snowstorm, has vowed to pay it forward. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch