Wednesday, June 12, 2024

‘We can do better’ Donations roll in for 90-year-old veteran working in sweltering heat

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Ninety-year-old Dillon McCormick can be seen at the Winn-Dixie in Metarie, Louisiana, collecting the shopping carts people leave behind in the parking lot. Even on days when the temperature tops 90.

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It was 90 degrees in a Winn-Dixie parking lot in metro New Orleans when Karen Swensen spotted something last week that she couldn’t believe: An elderly man who works at the store collecting shopping carts in the blazing heat.

“I saw this elderly man pushing carts and from my perspective, it appeared that he was always pushing uphill even though we don’t have any hills,” she told USA TODAY on Thursday.

Swensen initially left the store that day, this past Memorial Day on May 27. But something pulled her back to Winn-Dixie and that man, working so hard in the heat.

When she returned later in the day, she met him and found out that his name is Dillon McCormick, he’s a 90-year-old Air Force veteran and that he has worked at the Winn-Dixie in Metairie in metro New Orleans for 23 years. When Swensen asked McCormick why he was working out in the heat, he had a simple answer that pulled at her heartstrings:

“To eat,” he said.

Former TV anchor shares Dillon McCormick’s story

As a former news anchor at WWL-TV in New Orleans, Swensen did what she knows how to do best: tell a story.

In hopes of helping McCormick, Swensen posted about him on social media and started a GoFundMe that same day, hoping that the internet would “do its thing.” 

On the GoFundMe, she explained that McCormick needs about $2,500 a month to pay his bills and put food on the table and that he only gets $1,100 from Social Security.

“Mr. McCormick is working to EAT, he said,” she posted. “So he must push carts in triple digit heat to make ends meet. He had the kindest smile and greatest attitude. He is grateful for his job and his work ethic speaks for itself.”

She continued to say that “no donation is too small” and that “if we could raise even enough for him to retire for a year, it’s something.”

Swensen ended up raising much more money than she dreamed of.

‘It wasn’t something that I did. It’s all of these strangers.’

Swensen couldn’t believe her eyes when she checked the fundraiser the day after she created it.

“I think we made $170,000 by the time I woke up the next morning,” she told USA TODAY. “By the end of the day, it was over $220,000. It was just remarkable.”

Swensen’s initial fundraising goal was $30,000, but she later bumped it up to $70,000 once she saw how excited everyone was to help. The number just kept rising and people even reached out to her from Taiwan and Europe.

“Let’s give this man two years of retirement,” she recalled saying, adding that he can now retire if he wants to and invests his money.

As of Thursday evening, the fundraiser had reached $244,000. (Swensen stopped taking donations after raising so much for McCormick.)

How did Dillon McCormick react to Swensen’s random act of kindness?

Swensen couldn’t wait to tell McCormick about the fundraiser when she saw its initial success, so she decided to call him up. Problem was, he thought it was a scam call and hung up on her.

So, Swensen went to his house to tell him instead.

“Oh my God,” he responds when she says the donations were at $170,000 and climbing. Ever the reporter, she asked him how he felt.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “At my age, it’s probably a miracle.”

Swensen said what really amazed her is the fact that so many people from all walks of life donated to McCormick and wanted to help.

“It wasn’t something that I did,” she said. “It’s all of these strangers.”

She also noted that donations poured in from people of all political sides, she said.

“This was not a red or blue response,” she said. “This is a red, white and blue response to right a wrong that people saw, that this man should not have been working at 90.”

Dillon McCormick is not retiring

What Swensen and the thousands of people who donated to the GoFundMe may not have anticipated is that McCormick would choose to keep working, even with all the donations.

But the difference now, she says, is it’s “because he wants to.”

Swensen said McCormick now has all everything he needs to live comfortably, which is why the fundraiser is closed.

Those who come across his story and still want to help can reach out to organizations that serve veterans or those suffering from homelessness, she said.

“He has made it clear that he has enough and he’s extremely grateful,” she said. “But I really think he would say if you want to help … help somebody else in your community.”

Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY’s NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757. Follow her on Twitter at @SaleenMartin or email her at sdmartin@usatoday.com.

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