Ottawa man dishes out hope, one slice at a time
Ritchie O'Neil dedicates his evenings to providing clothing, warm food for homeless
In 2008, Ritchie O'Neil lost his leg in a motorcycle accident — and for awhile, things got pretty dark.
"I fell on my face a little bit," said O'Neil. "I had addiction problems of my own [in] the past and, you know, I struggled."
O'Neil credits the kindness of strangers for giving him hope, and now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ottawa man is trying to share that hope with others.
He's been buying and delivering clean clothes, hygiene products and even warm pizza to Ottawa's homeless residents. O'Neil says he's been at it for the past nine months, five to six nights a week.
"One thing ... that most people may not know about the people on the street [is that] these people have nothing. But you give them something, they're going to [help out] the next person," said O'Neil.
'Everybody gets a slice'
O'Neil said he's been doing outreach in some form or another for the past eight years, but ramped up to a nightly schedule during the pandemic, buying nearly a dozen pizzas each night and bringing them to homeless residents downtown.
One of the people who has helped him along the way is his girlfriend, Sonia Da Silva, who does the driving while he focuses on the roadside deliveries.
"The most surprising thing for me is how much someone who has nothing is willing to share the little bits that they have, just to see someone else comfortable or happy," said Da Silva.
"When we bring the pizzas, everybody gets a slice."
O'Neil mostly pays out of pocket for the deliveries — aided in part by a settlement from his motorcycle crash — but he also posts a lot on social media, and sometimes people donate to help out.
Lately, Da Silva said, she's been surprised by how many donations from complete strangers have started pouring in, from money to pay for pizza to bags of new clothing, socks and personal hygiene items.
"I just traded my Jeep Cherokee for a van because we were getting so many donations and there wasn't enough room to pick everything up!" she said.
The couple admits it's a lot of time and energy, but say they're rewarded with smiles and, occasionally, a touching surprise. O'Neil recently got a gift of his own from one of the homeless men he regularly delivers to: a blanket for his soon-to-be-born granddaughter.
O'Neil said that, for him, the deliveries are a constant reminder of the power of hope during dark times.
"I don't want to forget the people that helped me," says O'Neil. "This is a tribute [and an] honour to the ones that loved me and helped me up. Everybody needs hope, especially in a time like this."