At first, Danielle Rigdon was a tad embarrassed when her son Dave, who turns four on Dec. 19, wanted to pick up bottles and cans when they were out walking.
He had come to her about two months ago, saying he wanted to make money, just like his mom and dad do when they go to work.
He had seen them taking their own cans to the bottle depot, and thought that would be a good way for him to do it.
At first, Danielle tried to discourage Dave from picking up the items – usually along Discovery Trail on their way from their west Abbotsford home to preschool – but her strong-willed child insisted on putting them in the bottom of his brother Seth’s stroller.
Danielle figured there wasn’t any real harm in the task so she let her boy continue. Dave often climbed over fences along their route to get at the cans or dashed into prickle bushes to retrieve them.
Sometimes his brother, exactly one year younger, would help.
Soon, his collection grew, and Danielle assumed he would want to exchange them for cash to purchase a new toy.
One day last week, on the way to preschool, the pair had a conversation.
“This is money, right, Mom?” Dave said as he peered into his bag of cans.
“After we cash them in,” Danielle replied.
“Mom, I want to cash them in and give money to the homeless and maybe they won’t be homeless anymore,” David said.
Danielle burst into tears, gave her son a big hug and said, “Honey, that is wonderful!”
She had no idea that such an idea had been percolating in her son’s head. But it’s the kind of lesson that she and her husband, Brian, have tried to instill in their two boys.
Brian and Danielle know what it’s like to struggle, both having overcome drug addictions. Brian has been clean and sober for six years and Danielle five.
Brian spent 27 years in and out prison and has lived in the Downtown Eastside. Danielle herself spent six years in jail.
They met while both attending separate treatment centres in Abbotsford and Brian was doing some gardening at the location where Danielle was staying.
Now, Brian is a foreman, Danielle runs a housecleaning business and they own their own home. Danielle plans to return to university in the new year to become a personal trainer.
They talk to their sons and pray with them about people who are suffering.
“I really want to instill in my children that no matter what walk of life you’re at – let it be that you’re homeless and poor or let it be you’re addicted and homeless or rich and living in a mansion – it doesn’t matter. People are people,” Danielle said.
“We’re all a little broken, we’re all a little lost and we all need help from time to time, and the only time you should be looking down on someone is if you’re helping them up.”
Still, Danielle said she was surprised to learn that those messages seem to be getting through to her sons at such an early age.
She said Dave has collected about $60 worth of bottles so far, and the family plans to donate the money to Chilliwack’s Pearl Life Renewal Society, which offers support and services to sexually exploited girls and women. Danielle’s best friend is on the board of the society.
But Dave might just keep a little bit of money for himself. He would like to buy a toy police car.