Elementary school principal’s story of helping homeless man goes viral

An elementary school principal from Alabama has become an unlikely internet star after posting a story on Facebook about how he helped a sick homeless man who eating out of a trash can.

John Brantley, whose story has been shared over 1 million times in just a few days, noticed the man as he was leaving a Best Buy store on Sept. 15.

“As I walked to my car I watched him as he reached in the garbage can and pulled out fast food trash bags and inspected all that was in the thrown away bags,” wrote Brantley. “He did this for several minutes. He would find a few fries in one bag and a bite or two of a hamburger in another bag. You can see the hamburger wrapper by his knee where he was placing the food items he’d found.”

In the post, Brantley displayed a sort of gained awareness and appreciation for the homeless man’s struggle.

“I am not someone who just hands out money or even helps homeless people because so many are not truly homeless,” he continued. “I don’t guess I’ve ever seen someone actually go through a garbage can to try to find food to eat.”

Feeling compelled to help, Brantley asked the man if he could buy him a meal.

“He told me he would appreciate anything I could get him,” Brantley explained. “He was on a bike and I told him if he’d follow me I’d buy him a meal at the fast food place around the block. He followed me and I bought him the biggest meal they had on the menu.”

The man, who introduced himself to Brantley as Steve, said he became homeless last year following the death of his sister.

John Brantley.

John Brantley.

After they said goodbye, Brantley almost immediately felt like he should do more for Steve. He turned back towards the fast food place to find his new friend. When he returned, he found Steve riding away on his bike.

“I pulled up beside him and asked him if there was any way I could help him,” Brantley explained. “He told me not really. He never asked me for money. I asked him if I could buy him a few meals and put it on a gift card for him. He told me that would be so kind.”

Steve, touched by Brantley’s gesture of kindness, broke down and told him more of his story. He revealed that he is dying of cancer, and isn’t sure he’ll live much longer.

“He was tired of being in pain and he would be better off dead because this was no life- living this way,” Brantley wrote. “I stayed and encouraged him for a few minutes trying to fight back my tears.”

Brantley said he hopes that something he said to Steve was able to give him some hope, but it looks like his story might do more than that.

In an update, Brantley posted on Thursday to his Facebook page that not only had he received word from a doctor in North Carolina who wants to help treat Steve’s cancer for free, but that he’s also planning to start an online fundraiser to help cover some of the costs involved with transportation.

Here’s the update:

“I am also in the process of trying to find Steve,” Brantley said. “The Best Buy in Mobile, AL is looking for him as well as another lady that has taken him in on several occasions.”

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a sixth generation Portlander who loves all things Maine. He has worked with mentally ill and marginalized adults at a Portland non-profit, on a lobster boat in Casco Bay, at several high-end Portland restaurants, and at a local meat packing plant. He also ran for Portland City Council in 2013, wrote a weekly column in the now defunct Portland Daily Sun, and currently writes a weekly column in The Portland Phoenix.