Now or Never

He was homeless, now he's a farmhand: How a chance encounter led to a life-changing job offer

Danielle MacDuff stopped for coffee when she saw Brian Bannister - and decided to stop, talk, and offer him a job.

‘I’ve got five minutes to stop and ask this man what his story is and why he's there’

A duo of images. On left, a woman in sunglasses smiles in a tractor next to an older man in glasses. On the right, the same man kneels beside a number of goats.
Danielle and Brian now work together on the farm every day. (Danielle MacDuff)

Little Stanley and Little Baby are a couple of noisy kids bleating for their bottles of milk. These baby goats are two good reasons for Brian Bannister to get out of bed each day. Just a few months ago, he didn't have a bed to get out of. Brian was unhoused, sleeping in either a snowbank or a shed. 

The goats are at Danielle MacDuff's family farm where Brian has been working for several weeks. It all started after Danielle paused on her way into her local coffee shop to grab drinks for her staff. She'd passed him countless times, sitting stooped on a pail reading a book, but she had never engaged. 

"The day I did stop, I was heading out to get coffee for the other staff and I just said to myself: I have five minutes, you know, I've got to make five minutes to stop and ask this man what his story is and why he's there."

That moment changed the trajectory of Brian's life. 

A man stands in a farmer's field, beside a golden-coloured cow who doesn't seem interested in posing for this photo.
Brian and Miss Daisy, the cow. (Danielle MacDuff)

At the start of this year, the 60-year-old was unhoused and close to giving up. "I didn't care about my life. I let things go too far and then when you let it go too far, there was no turning back."

Danielle and Brian's first conversation was less than thirty minutes, but by the time she said goodbye she'd already asked if he'd be interested in coming to work on the family farm. He agreed, and when said she'd be by to pick him up at 8 the next morning, Brian was in disbelief. 

"You jumped right off your pail, you were so excited!," she says as they laugh together.

As they drove into the farmyard and Brian saw the animals, his happy memories of working on various farms more than 20 years ago came flooding back. Brian, the MacDuffs, and all the animals instantly connected.

Two people pose for a selfie, on the left a woman in a toque and a scarf smiles, on the right a grey-haired man smiles into the camera.
Danielle and Brian have grown close over the past weeks. (Danielle MacDuff / GoFundMe)

The impact of Danielle's decision to stop and invite Brian to work at her farm has had a profound impact not only on the two of them, but the entire Newcastle, Ontario community. Late last month a massive snowstorm was forecast. Danielle was worried about Brian sleeping in the cold, so she went online to family and friends to ask for some money to put him in a hotel room for the night. The donations poured in. There was quickly enough money to move on from a hotel to renting a proper room indefinitely.

"I didn't think anybody cared about me anymore until Danielle came to stop and talk to me one day," Brian's voice cracks, "and she came back the next day and offered me a job at the farm and it's changed my life immensely."

Danielle and Brian have become close, and she's helped with everything from booking his first haircut in two years to connecting him with his first cell phone.

"I couldn't figure this thing out. I had to wait 'til the ringing stopped and then go through about 50 times just so I could maybe hit the right buttons," he says. 

Danielle smiles. "You still kind of struggle with that, but we're getting there."