It started with a sandwich, a cup of coffee and a heartfelt chat.
When Moose Jaw paramedic Nicholas Hennink and his fiancee Sheena Nault sat down with locals living on the streets to talk about their struggles, they originally envisioned the project as part of their own self-healing journey towards mental wellness.
But it grew into much more.
In the span of a few months, the project transformed from a small initiative dedicated to providing homeless and transient populations with essential supplies, into a national movement. To raise awareness, Hennink and Nault are travelling across Canada and the U.S in an RV.
“One day we decided, you know let’s actually just pay for food and sit down with them and talk and see if they will open up to us and let’s find out why they’re on the streets. Do they have any struggles? What do they want to say?” Hennink recalled.
The Help Someone Movement challenges participants to give food, clothing, hygiene products or medical supplies to a person living on the streets and then spread the word to friends and family in a pay-it-forward approach. For the past month, they’ve been travelling around the province in an RV, raising awareness, but have plans to take the project across the continent, with trips across Canada this summer and to the U.S once the border opens. The RV is their permanent residence and their house is in the process of being sold.
Hennink and Nault set up a GoFundMe account for the project earlier this year and it gained considerable attention on social media, reaching more than 10 million people. With public support, the couple were able to raise $83,000 in three days, surpassing their original expectations and turning their dream to expand the project into a reality. Although they are no longer accepting donations, they will consider reaching out to the public again if they need more funds.
Hennink and Nault never expected the movement to become as large as it did. It started as a small project, with the couple filming themselves doing one good deed for every day of the year in 2020 and posting the videos to TikTok.
“We were going to do it very simply and live as simple as possible just for our own mental health, and then we started doing this and it kind of took a different turn …. now there’s kind of a purpose behind it,” said Nault in a recent interview.
With a history of supporting social causes, creating the movement felt like a natural next-step for Hennink and Nault. Nault has been volunteering for food drives and delivering Christmas hampers for the past five years and Hennink was declared Canadian Paramedic of the Year in 2020, after founding We Are Warriors Magazine, a publication dedicated to mental wellness and recovery and Sober Excursions, a travel group for people suffering from Alcohol Use Disorder.
Hennink almost found himself homeless. As an advanced care paramedic, he was witness to terrible tragedies and struggled with PTSD for seven years. He resorted to alcohol as a coping mechanism and went to rehab three times for treatment.
“It was a long journey for me to get over or fight that demon of addiction, so that’s why I have a soft spot for those who are struggling with addiction,” he said. “That could have been me on the streets and it should have been me, but I was lucky enough to get some help.”
But Hennink prefers to keep his mind set on the future and use his past as a tool to create good. He and Nault want their movement to spread as far and wide as possible, even to other countries.
It’s simple, he said. It starts with a sandwich.