PALM COAST, Fla. – August Tholen has used exit 289 in Palm Coast countless times but on a recent trip he noticed a man with his dog panhandling near the stop light.
“I saw this gentleman on the side of the road, he had his dog in a wagon,” Tholen remembered. “He had a little sign, homeless vet and he had a veteran’s hat on.”
Tholen can’t explain it but something made him stop, offer the man a drink, and find out more. Tholen admits this is something he never does.
“Mother Theresa isn’t in my DNA,” Tholen explained. “But Dave was different.”
‘Dave’ is David Sickles, an Army veteran who has been panhandling at the exit and camping with his dog Max in the woods nearby.
“He looked like he could use some help, put it that way,” Tholen said.
Sickles remembers the moment too. “I was out there trying to get money for a room, a place for my dog and me to stay that night because it was going to be a rainy night.”
The two veterans spoke.
“Vets have their own thing. It’s like a brotherhood you know,” Tholen said.
Sickles was honest, admitting that he’s been in trouble in the past but that when he lost his wife last year he also lost his desire to be productive.
“I was just existing,” Sickles said. “I had no ambition, no energy to do anything. I wanted to be with my wife to be honest with you.”
Later that day, Tholen posted about the meeting on the Nextdoor app — also something he rarely does.
“I’m not a social media guy to tell you the truth,” Tholen said. “I have email and text and Nextdoor.”
Nextdoor is the popular social media app where neighbors often post about missing pets or suspicious activity. Tholen chose to write about his chance meeting with a fellow veteran at the off-ramp.
The next thing you know the community got engaged and began asking how they could help.
“The amount of people that came forward and said I’ll help out with whatever I can. People have been unbelievable,” Tholen said.
One of those neighbors was Donna Belk. Belk, who was in the Navy for four years, was so moved by the story of one man stopping to ask about another, and then the community coming together to help, that she nominated Tholen for the News 6 Getting Results Award.
“One simple act by one guy coming out of his comfort zone. You never know what kind of change you can affect,” Belk said.
Tholen also started a GoFundMe account for Sickles which has been very successful.
“I wish more people would follow his lead,” Belk said. “It really did bring the community together I think.”
Tholen said the two now talk regularly. He’s glad he posted about his experience but gives credit to the community.
“I just want to see the guy get off the street, live a normal life and that’s what he wants to do as well.”
Now that may finally be happening. Sickles says he plans on using the money to secure a stable place to live which will also help him get a job. Sickles’ trade is in A/C repair.
“I’ve got all these people in Palm Coast that I didn’t even know. I think it’s a blessing,” Sickles said. “This is an opportunity to get back into society where I left off and not look back.”
Shortly after News 6′s story aired, Sickles found a permanent place to live. A private landlord in Palm Coast offered him a six-month lease on a single family home.
“It has everything I wanted,” Sickles said. “Now I can get the job I’ve been waiting on.”
He hopes to move in soon.