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The City Journals

‘We help each other’—a story of kindness in the Midvale community

Jul 20, 2021 10:20AM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart

Don, the “Nomadic Mechanic,” got stranded in Utah but found work fixing cars with help from the Nomad Alliance. (Photo courtesy Nomad Alliance)

By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]

One day Wendi Hatfield stopped to help a family in need and ended up being touched by someone else’s kindness. 

Hatfield was walking her dogs in Midvale City Park in late April when she saw a car with a broken wheel. She thought the car might be stolen so she called Midvale City Police and quickly got a call back from someone at The Road Home Midvale Family Resource Center.

“They informed me the vehicle was not stolen,” Hatfield said. “It belongs to a shelter resident who drives it just a short distance to stay at the park for the day. I looked around and saw a man with a child about six years old on a blanket under the tree. They were sleeping.”

Hatfield returned home, but couldn’t stop thinking about the little boy. 

“I had to go back,” Hatfield said. “I got a bunch of food, water, snacks and asked if I could chat.”

She confirmed that the car belonged to the man and offered to help him get it fixed. She posted on the Midvale Residents Facebook group page and someone recommended a mechanic named Don (who wishes to keep his last name anonymous). 

“He came over within moments,” Hatfield said. “He was the sweetest guy. He said the wheel needed to be fixed because it was destroying the car every time it was driven.”

Don started calling around, looking for the part he needed, and Hatfield went back to work. The mechanic spent the entire afternoon searching for the part and finally found it in Salt Lake City. 

Hatfield paid for the part over the phone and met Don at The Road Home, where the man had returned with his son. He was shocked that two strangers had worked so hard to help him.

“He looked at me and said, ‘You spent the whole day looking for this?’” Hatfield said. “The guy went to his knees, crying his eyes out because he was so grateful.”

Then it was Hatfield’s turn to be amazed. 

“Sweet Don walked over to the shelter personnel and asked if they had a place for him to stay that night as he, too, is homeless,” Hatfield said. “I said, Don, you are homeless, yet you asked for nothing from me to spend your day and fix this vehicle. He said he understood the situation and just wanted to help.”

Don is also known as the Nomadic Mechanic, an unsheltered mechanic with 40 years of experience who can repair a car onsite. The word “nomadic” refers both to Don’s ability to travel anywhere to fix a car and his status as an individual without permanent shelter. 

Hatfield shared the story of her interaction with the two men on Facebook, and several people joined in to vouch for Don. 

“Don just fixed our brakes and signal a few days ago,” LopiNlana Schwalger Toleafoa posted. “He really is a great mechanic. We are grateful to phenomenal human beings like him who literally make this world a better place.”

Brock Besner from Premier Complete Auto Care was also following Hatfield’s post and offered to help out. Since the other man’s car part was already paid for, Besner ended up fixing Don’s car. Besner has been helping Midvale families with free auto repairs over the last year and a half.

That spirit of helping where you can with what you have is a driving principal behind the Nomad Alliance, a group of individuals working to help unsheltered people in the Salt Lake area.

Kelly Michelle, a founding member of the Nomad Alliance, met Don just a day or two after he’d begun living on the streets. 

“His car broke down when he was driving through Salt Lake and he got stuck here,” Michelle said. “We found out he was a mechanic and started promoting him on our Facebook page. He ended up getting work and a vehicle. Got some stability for himself.”

The Nomad Alliance is a brand-new organization, but has already accomplished a great deal.

“It was originally just a supply drive,” Michelle said. “The city comes in, forces people to move out, throws their tents away. My friend (Kseniya Kniazeva) wanted to do a supply drive. It was supposed to be 14 degrees and we knew people were going to be without necessities.”

This was December 2020, and the group has gone out every two weeks since then. The Alliance cooks meals, distributes supplies and offers any other support that is needed, from detox support to trips to the DMV to replace lost IDs.

“We do empowerment workshops once a week where we talk about different traumas,” Michelle said. “We try to work through some of that stuff to help them get off the streets. Oftentimes they’re out there because of a surgery or injury got them addicted to pain killers. Sometimes it’s a divorce and an injury…something as simple as that and you end up on the streets. The majority of people don’t have a massive bank account and they’re one emergency, one lost paycheck away from being in that type of situation themselves.”

Anyone wishing to get involved can go to nomadalliance.org for more information. Volunteers and donations, especially tents and men’s clothing, are greatly appreciated. 

“We’re interested in helping the people who want to help themselves,” Michelle said. “It’s something we have a calling to do.”

As for Don, Michelle believes he’s currently in Washington State but she hopes he’ll be back.

Hatfield continues to walk her dogs, stopping to talk with anyone who seems down on their luck. 

Hatfield grew up in Midvale and returned after 25 years in California. She misses the small town feeling of her childhood and is doing her best to keep a sense of neighborliness.

“I very much want to make everyone feel like they’re part of the community, it doesn’t matter if they’re homeless,” Hatfield said. “I have the time, and I will talk to everybody and anybody. I’ll get their story. If there’s a need, I will reach out to Midvale [residents]. We help each other.”