James Robertson, the Detroit resident who made headlines earlier this week for walking 21 miles to work each day, has received a brand new car as a gift from a local dealership, less than a week after his story went viral.
Suburban Ford of Sterling Heights on Friday reportedly invited the 56-year-old Michigan resident to test drive vehicles. Employees then surprised him with his favorite ride, a 2015 red Taurus.
In less than a week, at least 12,500 people raised more than $335,500 for Robertson. His story, first published in The Detroit Free Press on Feb. 1, inspired Evan Leedy, a 19-year-old student studying computer science at Wayne State University in Detroit, to create a crowd-funding campaign for him, just hours after the local newspaper posted the article to its Facebook page.
Leedy previously told msnbc he initially set the goal to $5,000, which was reached the same day. Before he went to bed on Sunday night, $37,000 had been raised. He wanted to buy Robertson a car, pay for his insurance, and provide professional help in managing the donations. Car dealerships soon began offering brand new vehicles to ease Robertson’s travel.
Public transportation doesn’t cover Robertson’s full commute, so he had been walking about eight miles to his factory job in Rochester Hills, Michigan, and 13 miles home to Detroit. He also rode the bus part-way to work. He endured the journey since his Honda Accord stopped working in 2005. But despite the challenges, Robertson reportedly has perfect attendance at his job, where he earns $10.55 per hour molding parts.
“The best part of the story was that now it started to get people to talk about the bus system and how fractured it is. It got people thinking, ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem. We need to fix it,’” Robertson said in a video posted to the Free Press website on Saturday. He also spoke about how, when he walked, he thought about his parents and how they helped him remain humble throughout life.
Ledges Group AAA will provide insurance for Robertson, according to a post on the GoFundMe website.
Blake Pollock, a banker who befriended Robertson during his trek to work, helped him secure the car. He sometimes offered Robertson a lift to work.
Robertson had thanked everyone who donated to his cause in a video posted to the Free Press’ website on Tuesday,
“Everybody calls me an inspiration, but to those who have been great enough to donate and everything, this was really so welcomed. I don’t know what to tell you. You guys are the heroes,” Robertson said.
Robertson also said he was mentally and physically drained after a full week of work and commuting. But he remained optimistic, noting the state of unemployment for other Detroit residents. The city filed for what was the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history debt in July 2013. Since then, a federal judge approved Detroit’s plan to emerge from Chapter 9 bankruptcy and erase $7 billion of unfunded debt.
Earlier in the week, Leedy partnered with two other people, identified as Jiyan and Maggie, who also had created GoFundMe sites for Robertson. The campaigns will end at midnight on Sunday, per Robertson’s request.